Smiling: Does it Count if You Fake It?

Baseball uniform(s) in the 1870's
How long did these ball players live? Judging by their smiles, not long. (Image via Wikipedia)

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (and inspiration for my happiness project and this blog) tweeted this post by Ron Gutman from the Forbes blog: The Untapped Power Of Smiling.

In this post, Gutman reports on research that shows that smiling makes us feel better and look more competent and attractive. In addition, the size of one’s smile can also predict the length of that person’s life (large smiles = long life, apparently, at least among Major League baseball players in 1952).

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that one of the things about introverts is that we’re not terribly emotive. Often, our faces don’t reflect what we’re feeling inside. In fact, we are frequently accused of “scowling” or otherwise looking angry when we’re thinking. Does this lack of huge smiles mean we’re not going to live as long as the smiling guy next to us?

Gutman concludes:

So now, whenever you want to look great and competent, improve your marriage, or reduce your stress…or whenever you want to feel as good as when you’ve enjoyed a stack of high quality chocolate without incurring the caloric cost, or as if you randomly found 25 grand in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn for ages…or when you want to tap into a superpower and help yourself and others live longer, healthier happier lives…SMILE :-) [the emoticon is emphatically his]

But I remember reading somewhere (I think it was David Rakoff’s Half Empty. Here’s the trouble with only checking books out from the library and not buying them; I want to reference them in my blog and they’re not right here at my fingertips. Probably a reason to get a Kindle) that in Thailand (I think), people can tell when a smile is fake. I suppose we can all tell when a smile is fake or forced, but apparently in Thailand they know this consciously and comment on it when they see fake smiles in advertising and such.

So here’s my question: If you’re not a natural smiler but you make a point of forcing yourself to smile, will you still reap the purported benefits of smiling (a long, happy life filled with successful business endeavors and blissful interpersonal interactions)? Because if, as Gutman suggests, the smiles need to be “big, and genuine,” my fellow introverts and I might just be screwed.

3 Replies to “Smiling: Does it Count if You Fake It?”

  1. I think it counts even if you fake it. I have heard referenced in several documentaries that the parasympathetic nervous system is positively engaged when smiling. It seems like anytime that system achieves the upper hand to our overtaxed sympathetic nervous system, we receive health benefits.

    Whether it’s true or not, I know that even fake smiling suppresses the gag reflex. So, even if I’m not gaining quantity of days, I consider it a quality day if it is vomit-free.


    1. I did not know that smiling suppresses the gag reflex. And I would definitely agree that a vomit-free day would pretty much always be higher quality than a vomit-filled day.


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