We’ve all been there. A moment of deep sadness in which a caring friend of ours tells us to keep a positive attitude. “Smile,” our friend would say, and we comply because we recognize the need to feel better and reflect that in our faces – not to mention we might want to please people around us. And while there’s a lot to be said about the power of positive thinking, it turns out this tendency to smile through adversity might not be such a good idea after all.
A study led by marketing professor Anirban Mukhopadhyay at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has found that such constant optimistic smiles may actually make people feel worse in the long run, on account they may start associating smiles with the negative feelings they experienced while faking it.
Three experiments were conducted in the study, paying close attention to the frequency of people’s smiles and the motivation behind such expressions. In the first experiment, 108 people were asked to fill up a survey describing their smiling frequency on the day of the experiment, whether they thought people usually did it to force themselves into feeling better, and their level of satisfaction with their lives.
In the second experiment, 63 people were shown funny pictures and asked to smile only if they found them amusing.
In the last experiment, 85 people were asked to list situations in which they smiled because they were genuinely happy. The participants then were asked to manipulate facial muscles to simulate smile or non-smile shapes, after which their overall level of life satisfaction was carefully examined.
After analyzing the results, there was a clear division on the reason participants took on smiling. Those who don’t typically smile when they’re happy felt worse when smiling frequently, whereas those who do smile often when happy felt better.
According to Mukhopadhyay, “Frequent smiling results in more wellbeing than infrequent smiling only among people who interpret smiling as reactive or reflecting happiness. Among people who interpret smiling as proactive and causing happiness, frequent smiling results in less wellbeing than infrequent smiling.”
See, apparently we just associate smiling with the pressure to do so in order to feel happy, but while this can reflect an accurate joyful state if you already are happy, it backfires when you’re miserable and faking it.
While some people might be a bit down about these results, I think anything that motivates people to not mask their feelings and force themselves into positivity is actually a good thing. It doesn’t mean we have to pout every second of the day, but willing ourselves into any emotion is far from healthy either.
Smile when you’re happy, and fuck what your positivity pusher friends have to say about it. Now, doesn’t that make you smile a little bit?