BY MARY GRACE GARIS IN WELL + GOOD
Ever heard that sage advice to “smile through the pain?” It offers the ethos of other similar platitudes like “put your big girl pants on” or “get back on the horse,” but apparently, when it comes to—wait for it—grinning and bearing it, there’s some science to support the trite saying.
A recent paper published in Psychological Bulletin suggests that smiling, even if you’re faking it, will gift you a marginal, momentary mood boost. The meta-analysis of 138 studies on more than 11,000 people worldwide about facial expression and whether it influences emotions supports the notion that smiling makes people a smidge happier, while scowling and frowning makes them angrier and sadder, respectively. But, when perusing online reactions to this new finding, I saw an abundance of “Smiling is the Way to Happiness” headlines—which crystallized just one thought in my mind: Please don’t make me smile.
I hate being told to smile. Anyone who’s ever fielded a catcall on their way to work (AKA a woman who breathes air) probably also hates being told to smile. We should feel how we want to feel, and internalizing emotions to turn a frown upside down tends to manifest destructive external effects. Need proof? A recent and unrelated buzzy study suggests faking a perma-smile while working in the service industry lead to boozing hard later on.
Studies and their conclusions about positive micro-effects aside, I want to know if there’s really ever a time when a fake smile is a good plan or like, nah. And according to Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist and author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity, the issue isn’t black and white—but being constantly joker-faced can be isolating.
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Dr. Helene Brenner is a psychologist in Frederick, Maryland and author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity (Gotham Books, 2003).