Like it or not, interacting with other humans on a daily basis requires us to perform certain social niceties to ensure things run smoothly. One of my least faves? The fake smile. You know what I'm talking about — that thing you do with your mouth when you see that annoying coworker or college friend out at the bar. It's not so much a smile, since you can't be bothered to make the corners of your mouth actually turn up; it's really more of a lateral stretching of the lips to give at least a glimpse of teeth. Because, honestly, what else are you going to do? Not smiling makes you seem rude or cold. But, is a fake smile any better than nothing at all?
Maybe not, if a new study from Northwestern University is to be believed. Researchers asked 108 participants how they felt about smiling — whether they smiled because they were actually happy or because they were trying to project the idea that they were happy. Next, the group had to report how many times they each smiled over the course of a day as well as their various happiness levels.
The researchers found that subjects who believed that smiling reflected actual happiness reported feeling better when they smiled, because, it follows, they were actually happy when they were smiling. However, for those who believed that smiling reflected fake emotions, or was just an attempt to improve mood, smiling actually made them feel less happy. So, forcing a grin made them feel worse than they otherwise would have.
While previous research has suggested that smiling in itself can actually make you feel better, these results show that when it comes to putting on a happy face, intention matters. If you're not flashing your teeth out of genuine joy, chances are you'll end up feeling like a big fat phony. And, there's the added downside that whoever you're flashing 'em at can probably see right through you, anyway. Something to consider next time you're about to grin and bear it. (Fast Company)