I don’t know if you know this, but smiling – even fake smiling – has benefits.
In an article from Prevention magazine, called “6 Weird Things That Make You Happy,” number 3 is “Fake a Smile.” In a study by the University of Kansas, participants who faked a genuine smile experienced eased stress and boosted moods.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m not happy, so I’m not going to smile.” (Or am I the only one who talks to themselves this clinically??) Maybe you’re thinking about it backwards… the correlation between smiling and happiness goes both ways!
From personal experience, I can actually tell you that faking a smile works wonders. More than once I’ve been out for a run, and I start panting and feeling like death (perks of the pastime). When this happens, sometimes I resign myself to hoping the Grim Reaper himself will just swoop down and end my suffering while repeating my mantra, “this sucks, this is terrible, why am I doing this”… And sometimes I force myself to smile.
Can you guess which of these reactions helps more?
Forcing myself to fake a smile while running actually makes me feel less like death! Sometimes it even gives me a nice boost of energy, and I can trick myself into thinking that I’m smiling because I’m having such a good time.
But. There is, of course, a flip side to this whole smiling dealio.
In order for this fake-a-smile technique to work… It has to be MY decision.
Nothing shuts me down, pisses me off, and starts an angry fire burning within me faster than someone else telling me to smile. Even if you have the best intentions of telling me about the science behind smiling, do NOT tell me to smile. I understand the science, I actually know that smiling makes you feel better, and sometimes I do smile… for me.
But I do not need to smile for you.
Here’s a new mantra for you: I do what I want. Repeat as needed until that angry fire has subsided a little.
I actually found another interesting research study about smiling, and this one has to do with perceptions of men’s vs. women’s happiness based on their smiles. Bear with me, because my description may get a little convoluted.
In a study entitled “Do We Expect Women to Look Happier Than They Are?” researchers found that feminine facial features enhance the expressive cues associated with happiness. This makes a woman look happier than a man, even when their smiles have the same intensity. However, we as humans have learned to automatically correct for this difference, and we automatically apply the required “happiness subtraction” to our perceptions of women.
The study in question used software-created androgynous faces. The faces did not differ in gender-specific facial features. Participants were presented with two faces objectively adjusted to the same emotional intensity (level of happiness), one labeled “male,” and one labeled “female.” Participants were asked “who is happier?”
The study revealed a significant bias towards choosing the male-designated faces as being happier.
What does this mean? It means that society expects women feeling the same intensity of happiness as men to “look happier.”
To put it another way, if a woman’s face shows the same intensity of positive emotion as a man, society will assume that the man is happier.
Umm, that seems unfair. This bias is probably why women get accused of having “Resting Bitch Face,” while men are allowed to just exist with their normal resting faces without criticism.
So please, don’t tell me to smile. You don’t know how happy or sad I’m feeling. You don’t know my life. I can almost guarantee that no one who has ever been told to smile responded with “Oh gosh! I forgot that smiling is a thing! Thank you, kind stranger, I feel so much better!”
Yes, smiling can ease stress and boost your mood. Yes, even a fake smile can be good for you.
But don’t you dare tell me to smile.
Be happy. Be healthy.
Harrar, S. (2013). 6 Weird Things That Make You Happy. Prevention, 65(1), 46-47.
Steephen, J.E., Mehta, S.R., Bapi, R.S. (2017). Do We Expect Women to Look Happier Than They Are? A Test of Gender-Dependent Perceptual Correction. Perception, 47(2), 232-235.