When someone is sad, it is natural to want to cheer her up. Can encouraging her to smile, even a fake one, do the trick?
Will a forced smile feel fake?
A recent study in Hong Kong found that smiling when unhappy can actually make them feel worse because they will feel like they are wearing a mask. The study also found that the brain will begin to link the smile with the sad feelings and will attach future smiles to the same feelings of sadness versus happiness.
The study was done by Anirban Mukhopadhyay, an associate professor of marketing at Hong Kong University Science and Technology. He believes a person should wait until their unhappiness naturally shifts to a better mood before attempting to smile.
Professor Mukhopadhyay said, “making people who are feeling bad smile could backfire and make them feel worse, because they may interpret smiling as trying to become happy. Smiling frequently would remind them of being not happy.”
Does the act of smiling create happiness?
Smile studies have been happening for more than the last century, some dating back to 19th century Darwin who suggested that facial expressions not only affect emotion, they determine it. Several studies from 1970’s on suggest that smiling, even when “faking” it, can have a positive effect, creating both outward and inward feelings of happiness.
A study published by Robert Zajonc provided some significant insights into the emotional effect of producing a smile. Through a series of physical tests asking participants to create certain sounds with their mouths or to hold items in their mouths while talking to force the face into particular expressions, Dr. Zajonc found information that led him to believe the physical act of smiling creating feelings of happiness.
Dr. Zajonc took the study further by looking at brain temperature during smiling and frowning. Research suggests that a cooler brain is a happier one and Dr. Zajonc found that the way key arteries tighten during smiling means less blood flow to the brain and therefore the brain is cooler. His research found the reverse to be true for frowning.
Another notable study done by a team in Wales in 2009 explored the use of Botox in patients and their emotional swings. The results showed that patients who had enough botox to prevent frowning, felt less feelings of sadness.
It may be a long time before the final verdict is in on whether or not smiling makes people feel happy and frowning makes people feel sad. In the meantime, our vote is for smiling whenever the urge strikes and then some.
Even if the smile doesn’t necessarily make you feel better, it may make those around you feel happy. Plus we know how hard you work to have a healthy smile so why not show it off every chance you get.
The Art of Beautiful Smiles
Duane P. Delaune, D.D.S. earned his dental degree at Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, where he graduated fifth in the class. Delaune Dental began in 1990 with the passion of providing great customer service and exceptional dental care. Dr. Delaune loves the wilderness and often hikes or goes backpacking.