Fake it 'til you make it, the old wisdom goes. But a new study shows that it might not work, after all.
It's common knowledge that the physical process of smiling can lift your spirits, while repetitive frowning can make you sadder or angrier. It's even still taught in psychology courses, NPR reports. But a recent study seems to disprove that seemingly timeless wisdom, concluding instead that smiling a lot makes little, if any, difference in one's overall happiness.
Scientists analyzed 50 years of data, using the tests administered by an impressive 300 previous studies on the topic. And what they found is that smiling might only make you happier about 7 percent of the time — not exactly a roaring success.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, investigated not just the effects of smiling, but also of frowning, scowling, and other emotion-related facial expressions. And all of the effects "were extremely tiny," said Nick Coles, the study's lead author.
Part of the reason may lie in the fact that there are many different types of smiles. Without having a mechanism for figuring out which smiles are genuine, which are sarcastic, and which fall elsewhere on that spectrum, it's harder to figure out whether a real smile might actually make you happier.
But until then, hold off on telling people to smile — it probably won't help, and it might just make them feel worse. Read more at NPR.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.