The Big Benefits of a Smile File

Earlier in my career, I remember reporting to a new office after a promotion. One of the first things I noticed was that everyone had a manila folder with a smile drawn on it on their desk.

Curious, I asked a friendly face what the folders were for, and her matter of fact response of “they’re our smile files” let me know I was missing something. Seeing my confusion, she graciously let me take a look inside her folder.

What did I find behind that smile? Treasure. There were emails with accolades, thank you notes from clients, and stories of funny things that happened in the office. Even though I was brand new to that office and did not know anyone yet, reading through the file had me smiling.

If you haven’t figured it out already, a Smile File or Feel Good File are simply places to store all the things that make you feel good or smile at work. Here are four reasons why I am such a strong advocate for everyone having one.

1.  As their name indicates, they’re a quick pick-me-up.

When you are having a stressful or difficult day, you look through your smile file and remember the good times. If you receive some negative feedback or if a project doesn’t go as planned, you can look back at all the projects that did go well and all the positive feedback you received. If you work with external clients and are faced with a difficult situation or client, reading about all the people you’ve helped and the positive impact you’ve had in the past can help you persevere.

2.  They can help stabilize your confidence if you ever feel it wavering.

We’ve all doubted ourselves and our abilities at some point in our careers. Feel Good Files are a great way to remember all your successes and prove to yourself that your colleagues and supervisors believe in you – so you should too. As this New York Times article explains, we are more likely to remember bad or negative experiences over positive ones. To keep our confidence in our real abilities up, we might need a reminder from time to time of just how awesome we are.

3.  They are a great tool to help you prepare for performance reviews. 

Smile Files often contain positive emails, notes, or messages from supervisors about your work and goals. If you’re like me and get nervous around review time, a ride down memory lane in your Smile File can help calm those nerves. They can also be great talking points for highlighting your successes and positive contributions during your review or subsequent job interviews.

4.   They can reduce your mental load.

If your Smile File also includes funny situations or stories from the office, you might even enjoy a few chuckles. While laughing is fun and can reduce your mental load, the Mayo Clinic also lists a ton of physical health benefits to laughter.

Here is more good news when it comes to Smile Files – they are super easy to make and maintain. If you are a paper person, you can use a simple folder to collect printed emails, written notes, and messages. If you prefer to keep things electronic, you can create a folder in your email mailbox where you can transfer any praise or positive messages you receive. If you receive verbal praise or have a great in-person experience, you can just email yourself a note about what happened for your electronic file.

So what are you waiting for? You’ve got nothing to lose in giving a Feel Good File a try – and nothing but smiles to gain.


Emily Askri is a program manager at Path Forward.