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Smile and the World Smiles with You . . . Or Not

Posted Feb 27 2011 12:36pm

Or, maybe you’ve heard the term, “fake it till you make it?” But does it work, and is it healthy? Recent research suggests that flashing a fake smile to make yourself or others feel better, can actually make you feel worse.

The study, which appeared in the February issue of the Academy of Management Journal found that trying to cultivate positive emotions (meaning hiding negative emotions) may result in additional strain. Attempting to hide negative thoughts with a fake smile actually makes those thoughts more persistent.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Brent Scott, “Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organization, but that’s not necessarily the case. Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that’s bad for the organization.”

Many jobs require friendly, courteous and frequent interactions with other people. That mean’s smiles. The study points out that when these smiles are generated from “deep acting” (based on positive thoughts), they tend to be authentic smiles, even when they are smiles on demand. It’s the smiles based on “surface acting” (fake smiling on demand) that tend to backfire.

The takeaway—your game face says a lot, but so do the reasons for it. Forced smiling can actually result in withdrawal and mood deterioration when that smile is fake flash after fake flash. But, focus on pleasant thoughts and memories, and fake a smile, and you’ll be more likely to generate a real smile—and improve your mood.

So, what does this have to do with wellness (since we’re in the wellness business)? When you give yourself a chance to have an “authentic” smile, you’re actually improving your health. And, the best way to create the opportunity for that authentic smile? Do the smallest positive thing every day for only two months and you will improve your attitude, ward off anxiety and depression and begin to create the self-belief that you are in charge of your health—and that’s something worth smiling about.

Try it for yourself. Adjust your “smile feelings.” How do you feel? What are you thinking about? Does it bring a real smile to your face?

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