A smile doesn’t cost a thing

by Brian McVey

Asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” British writer G.K. Chesterton famously replied simply, “I am.” We want to be happy, yet we often seem to be the source of our own unhappiness and usually contribute to the unhappiness of others.

How many coppers do you know whose faces are in a constant frown? Who wants to work with anyone who rarely smiles? Do we realize what we must look like to others? Is anger the reason we don’t smile, or fear that we’ll come across as soft? Don’t believe me? Just look around your roll call room. I remember regularly seeing a lot of unhappy faces in those rooms.

Smiles are an important form of nonverbal communication. They express warmth and familiarity and signal approachability, honesty, cooperation and pleasure. Cops are trained to observe nonverbal behavior of others and sometimes forget that others observe us. Don’t we avoid miserable peers? We even give them nicknames.

Do you make an effort to smile? I hope so. Did you know that smiling affects your body? Most people would agree you look better when you smile! People treat you differently. We are drawn to people who smile. Perhaps we want to figure out what is so good. Frowns, scowls and grimaces push people away; smiles draw them in.

Simply by smiling, you can be viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. In today’s culture, what cop doesn’t want to be viewed as attractive and reliable? It may even increase officer safety.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychology reported that seeing an attractive smiling face activates your orbital frontal cortex, the region in your brain that processes sensory rewards. This suggests that when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded. Don’t believe me? Imagine you are in a coffee shop and see someone smiling at you, especially if it is someone of the opposite sex. Don’t you feel good, quickly straighten your posture, walk a bit taller?

We need more happy cops. In today’s society, happiness is a serious problem! It is also the title of a good book written by Dennis Prager. The book’s thesis: Happiness is a moral obligation because happy people tend to make the world a better place and the unhappy tend to make the world worse. When you ask people about their most cherished values, happiness is always at the top of the list. In his enduring happiness manifesto, Prager examines how happiness not only makes us better people, but also affects the lives of everyone around us — providing them with a positive environment in which to thrive and be happy themselves.

Achieving that happiness won’t be easy, though. To Prager, it requires constantly counting your blessings and giving up any expectations that life is supposed to be wonderful. “Can we decide to be satisfied with what we have?” he asks. “A poor man who can make himself satisfied with his portion will be happier than a wealthy man who does not allow himself to be satisfied.” Prager echoes other political commentators in complaining that too many people today see themselves as victims; he submits that the only way to achieve your desires is to take responsibility for your life rather than to blame others.

If you’re willing to put some thought into achieving a happier outlook, you will find plenty to mull over in Happiness Is a Serious Problem. I know many in law enforcement who chase the “keeping up with the Joneses’ lifestyle” only to realize later that it is the root of their unhappiness.

Finding happiness and fulfillment in life and in a career like law enforcement is a long and continuing examination. For all the evil we see and store in our mind, we must sweep clean our mental hard drives with laughter and smiles. Begin the daily journey of rediscovering the value of smiling! Cops love free stuff. Inform someone of the free health benefits of smiling:

  • It is contagious
  • It produces empathy
  • It reduces stress
  • It changes your mood
  • It increases productivity
  • It kills pain
  • It increases attention
  • It encourages trust

I am confident that gracing your face with a grin can seriously change your internal and external experience. Your smile is something that should be worn daily, so surround yourself with people, places and things that brighten your day. Vow to be the positive, happy person at work and among your friends. Watch funny movies often and be sure to look people in the eye and show them your pearly whites. The world is simply a better place when you smile.

See everything. Ignore much. Improve a little.


Brian McVey, MAP, is a happy husband and father. He worked for the Chicago Police Department for 10 years. Brian likes to talk; you can reach him at btmcvey77@gmail.com.

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