I’ve been thinking about the act of smiling lately, probably because I watched Elf multiple times over the holidays, and as Buddy says, “Smiling’s my favorite!”. The other reason I’ve been thinking about it is because what used to be a simple facial expression, as it turns out, is a far more complex topic than you might think.
First, the good. Of course, there are many reasons why smiling should be your favourite. In the workplace, smiling is related to:
- being perceived as a better leader (more)
- better job performance ratings (more)
- higher pay (more)
- a better chance of success in job interviews (more)
In general, smiling is also associated with:
- better social relationships (more)
- lowered stress and stress responses, like heart rate (more)
- higher later life satisfaction (more)
- longer lives (more)
Even more amazing, researchers have shown that there is a reciprocal relationship between smiling and positive emotions; not only do positive emotions trigger a smile, but the simple act of smiling (even if you’re not feeling it), can cause positive emotions and outcomes. So if you’re ever feeling down, stressed, or angry, forcing yourself to smile is a great first step in getting yourself in a better mood (if you can’t force it, try repeating the letter “e” to yourself!) (more here and here).
So how on earth, you might ask, can smiling be bad? Well, maybe when some random man on the street shouts at you to do it? This is an unfortunately common experience of many women, one that inspired Tatyana Fazlalizadeh to start an art movement.
Research shows that people expect women to smile more. When those expectations aren’t met, many people will attempt to correct this social deviation. Asking an unsmiling women “are you okay?”, is one way this happens. And of course, street harassers more blatantly point it out, making women feel victimized, unsafe, and violated.
But those who do smile also run into problems! Everyday Feminism did an excellent job describing the frustrations experienced by women who do smile, including harassment, or mistaken flirtation (story of my life, I’m just friendly!). These problems are exacerbated for female employees in the service industry (e.g., restaurants, hotels), who may receive unwanted attention daily because of a job requirement to smile (more). In these instances, the positive benefits of smiling described earlier, may be outweighed by the negative repercussions of harassment.
So, we simply want to remove the negative effects created by society’s social expectations for women to smile, and then encourage everyone to smile for the sake of their success and health. Simple.
Of course not, but the awareness created by groups like Everyday Feminism are certainly helping, and you can help by spreading that awareness. Also, try to ignore street harassers, with headphones, or your phone. If you are a man, never tell someone what to do with their face, never assume a smile means more than a social nicety, and if you see “smile harassment”, call out the inappropriateness and social undesirability of the behaviour.
And then maybe let only one man, Nat King Cole, tell you to smile 😉