Wednesday, September 07, 2011
To Smile or Not to Smile
"If you see a friend without a smile, give him one of yours."
"Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."
"You're never fully dressed without a smile."
"The shortest distance betwen two people is a smile."
How many times have you heard your mother tell you to smile? "You don't want your face to get stuck in that frown, do you?" And has anyone told you it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown? (The veracity of this is undetermined.)
Personally, I like smiles. They're a lot nicer to look at than frowns. I try to smile at people. I like to think it makes me look like a pleasant person and will make people like me. And who doesn't like to be liked?
But a recent study from Michigan State University caught my eye and made me pause and think a minute.
In this study, scientists followed a group of bus drivers for two weeks to study the effects of fake smiles. They chose bus drivers because their jobs require interactions with a variety of people and they are supposed to be courteous to passengers.
The researchers studied what happened when the drivers pasted on fake smiles or when they had an authentic smile brought about by positive thoughts.
Following me so far?
After two weeks, the researchers found that when the drivers forced a smile, their moods worsened and they withdrew from work. Trying to push away negative thoughts may have made the thoughts more persistent.
On days when the drivers smiled because they thought about pleasant things, their moods were better and they were more productive at work.
To take the results a step further, women were more affected than men, perhaps because women are often socialized to smile more. Thus, faking that smile might cause more stress.
So what's the bottom line?
The research suggests faking a smile can make a bad day worse.
So what are you supposed to do when your dog died, your car was rear-ended, you just took a pay cut and you have a job in customer service where you're supposed to smile at people?
Maybe you should put this photo on your desk so you can generate a genuine smile.
Remember the smile quotes at the beginning of this post? I left my favorite til the end.
"Smile. It ticks off some people and makes others wonder what you've been up to."
So what say you about faking a smile?