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The Sad Truth about Your Smile

The Sad Truth about Your SmileIf you’re subscribing to the old adage of “grin and bear it” “keeping smiling” or “chin up” to mask unwanted negative emotions, you’re not doing yourself any favors, or fooling anyone else for that matter — science shows us homo sapiens are not that easily fooled.

Researchers say that over time, putting on a fake smile can actually cause people to associate smiling with feeling unhappy, an internal cognitive dissonance, causing not only temporary confusion, but a sense of  uneasiness. The better option that is recommended is that people should instead forgo a smile until whatever negative emotion they’re feeling is resolved or subsided.

We are always taught to never wear our hearts on our sleeves, be it in a professional setting like the workplace, or in one’s personal life, although it is more forgiving in the latter area. Maybe society has it all wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be overly concerned with social decorum. But is that the healthiest route to take?

Perhaps it is best to give into our emotions every once in a while, not only in an attempt to appear sincere and not disingenuous to others, but more importantly to appear that way to ourselves. Not doing so can give way to a whole gamut of negative emotions down the road like frustration, denial, anger, and even resentment.

Perhaps the only way of letting go, although not always convenient, or politically correct is by being true to our emotions. Not doing so might be a true disservice. That being said, of course there is a time and place for everything so crying at work because you did not get the promotion you deserved might be an ill conceived idea.

“Smiling by itself does not increase happiness or well-being,” one of the researchers writes in the study. For the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers conducted three experiments in which they asked people a range of questions, including how happy they are with their lives, how much they smiled that day, whether they thought people more often smile to feel good or to try to feel good, and in which scenarios they recall smiling from happiness.

They concluded that those who smile when happy often feel better as a result, while those who smile when they’re not happy often feel worse.

So who should smile as much as possible and who shouldn’t?

People who smile frequently because of their naturally cheerful personality or disposition should feel free to just keep smiling, as this may indeed make them feel better. However, people who don’t naturally grin should remember that, for them, a smile is likely just “an attempt to become happy,” one researcher noted, and in practice, “people can think about their own beliefs about smiling, see how they feel about how frequently they smile and adapt either their beliefs or their behaviors to make themselves feel better,” he said.

Bottom line, researchers note that it seems to be best to find your underlying motivation for smiling to begin with, and subsequently strive to stay true to yourself and to your emotions at least most of the time. That might indeed be the healthiest prescription of all with minimal unwanted lingering side effects.

Hope this advice puts a grin on your face. Or not.

Source: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

The Sad Truth about Your Smile


Emily Waters

Emily Waters earned her Master's degree in industrial psychology with an emphasis in human relations. She possesses keen insight into the field of applied psychology, organizational development, motivation, and stress, the latter of which is ubiquitous in the workplace environment and in one’s personal life. One of her academic passions is the understanding of human nature and illness as it pertains to the mind and body. Prior to obtaining her degree, she worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Presently, she teaches a variety of psychology courses both in public and private universities.


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APA Reference
Waters, E. (2018). The Sad Truth about Your Smile. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-sad-truth-about-your-smile/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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