The next time someone asks if you’re ok and you have to urge to feign a smile–for your health’s sake, don’t do it. According to a study in this month’s Academy of Management Journal, fake smiling can actually put you in a worse mood.
Researchers say that cracking a fake smile forces the brain into “deep acting.” By briefly attempting to convince others that we are ok, we actually worsen the way we are feeling. Eventually, when we can drop the charade, we fall even deeper into our genuine emotional state. The study found that while we attempt to maintain pleasantries, we actually linger longer in our foul mood.
Interestingly, women participants in the study were prone to more drastic mood relapse after flashing fake smiles. Speaking to the New York Times, lead research Dr. Brent Scott said,
“women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive, he said, so hiding emotions may create more strain.”
This point is an important one, especially for us as ladies of color. While we are used to using our emotional walls as strength, our ‘black don’t crack’ mantra can often work against us. While remaining strong is revered, our vulnerability is often put on the back burner. Even though we are reared to walk with heads high enough to balance a wide brimmed hat and smiles wide enough to shake a deacon’s hand, we could do some good to give our selves a break. Everyone has bad days- they’re allowed.
Want to get back your smile for real? The study found that when prompted to recall a positive memory, participants were able to muster a real smile. By picturing the times and people that keep us happy, we remind ourselves of our ability to get back to that state. Sometimes all we need is that- a mental road sign to help us believe there are better days up ahead.
While saving face is understood, it isn’t a substitute for healthily delving into and really dealing with our issues.