Are the smiles you see every day genuine?

CJ Coombs
Sometimes you get that smile that says, "I don't really care for you."Photo by Vinicius Wiesehofer from Pexels.

How often are you aware that someone has given you a fake smile? You know the one.

On February 22, 2011, The New York Times published The Claim: A Fake Smile Can be Bad for Your Health by Anahad O’Connor. This article referenced a study in which some scientists were tracking bus drivers for a couple of weeks while they practiced fake smiling.

The study was focused on the bus drivers because, in their daily routines, they have a lot of interaction with people involving courteous responses. The drivers also have to perform those responses quite often.

I used to think of courtesy smiles as just that, a courtesy smile. I never thought of them as fake. It was probably given out of being nice. I would consider a fake smile to be a forced one that had no genuine emotion attached to it.

In regard to the bus drivers:

The scientists examined what happened when the drivers engaged in fake smiling, known as “surface acting,” and its opposite, “deep acting,” where they generated authentic smiles through positive thoughts, said an author of the study, Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

The research found when the bus drivers had forced smiles, their moods were affected by going somewhat downhill. If they were suppressing their negative thoughts, it seemed to make those types of thoughts stronger. However, their moods were more uphill when they put more effort into the way they smiled “by actually cultivating pleasant thoughts and memories.”

The study found that men were less affected than women. Dr. Scott, who is referenced in the above quote, thought that the cultural norms might be the behavioral response. That is, by social standards, women tend to be more expressive with their emotions — “hiding emotions may create more strain.”

So according to research, your mood is more aggravated when your smile is less genuine because you’re hiding your discontent.

On the same day The New York Times article came out, Dr. Claudia Welch wrote in her blog a piece entitled Fake Smiling is Bad for You (As Well As Irritating to Me):

I advise you (I don’t like to give advice, so let us just say I am sharing my own experience) to cut it out. Whenever possible. Me too.

(Emphasis added.)

Smiling for the photographer

This is my enemy. I can’t smile on queue because, for me, it’s not natural. I try to think about something pleasant before giving my cheekbones that special lift without saying “cheese.” Sometimes it works, but most of the time, it does not.

I suggest smiling for the photographer is technically not a genuinely fake smile because you’re participating in the creation of something pleasant for any recipient of the finished product.

Interestingly, according to Photography Concentrate, there’s a science involved in smiling and grinning. This site even includes images with the parts of your face that indicate a grin or a smile.

The human face can make over 10,000 expressions, which is kind of overwhelming!

How often do you pose a fake smile at the office?

Do you go to work thinking “it’s another fun day at the office?” Do you say that because you’re serious or because you just don’t want to be there another day?

Are you smiling at everyone because you’re being friendly or because you’re hiding your unhappiness? If the latter is the case, it may also affect the way you perform your job.

When someone gives you a project to work on in the office, do you give your best fake smile and say, “sure, happy to help.” Because if you do, then you’re lying, you’re not really happy to help, are you?

What’s interesting, is that the 10-year-old article mentioned above can still be considered today. It proposes the same questions or introduces new ones.

Do we pretend we’re happy when we smile?

According to Wonder How To Mind Hacks’ Fake Smiles Are Bad for You & Here’s Why by Heather Fishel published October 27, 2014,

When a real smile takes place, the happy emotions we feel send a signal to our brains’ left anterior temporal region. Once those positive feelings are received and recognized, two muscle groups react: our cheeks, which pull our facial muscles back and curl our lips upwards, and our eye sockets, which squint the corners of our eyes and create those little smile wrinkles.

Maybe sometimes we smile because we don’t want to burden anyone with what’s making us unhappy. So, we smile so no one knows about the discontent.

Other reasons why you got that fake smile

  • Someone was smiling out of respect. It might have been a forced smile because they were wanting to be kind.
  • Someone gave you a nervous smile. Maybe you had a noticeable facial growth or other marking and instead of staring at that, they forced a smile.

Some people know a fake smile when they see one

Sometimes when we give a fake smile, others recognize it because they have done it before too.

When you give someone a fake smile, be aware of it, and then ask yourself why it happened.

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Hello! I have 30 years of experience in the legal field, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. I am an incessant thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into the service life of the Air Force in Louisiana, life has taken me to Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and ultimately to Missouri, I don't have that true concept of "home," but believe every living experience is tied to language. I love my family, art, true crime, non-fiction, reading, travel, and red pinot.

Kansas City, MO

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