Yes, Forcing Yourself to Smile Actually Does Make You Feel a Little Better

chopsticks
Image by Bruce Guenter / CC BY

My grandma once told me that if you’re sad that you should just put on bright lipstick and smile.

Her reasoning was more about self-protection than anything else. She said that people would be too busy looking at your lipstick to notice your sadness.

And so you’d avoid the most dreadful states of all: Pity. Or someone attacking you when they know you’re feeling particularly sensitive.

I come from a long line of stoics. Some who wear makeup like my grandmother, and others who only wear it when going to a child’s fancy tea princess-themed tea party (like my father, who graciously wore fake pearls and nail polish to a soiree or two).

And while I never got much into wearing lipstick myself (at least not until my 30s, when lipstain became widely available and I could suddenly do things like eat and drink and kiss people without having to duck into the bathroom every 3 minutes to fix my face), I did learn to draw people’s attention away from my emotions in other ways.

For me, this involved wearing cheerful-looking clothing. Bright dresses, pretty shoes.

And yes, smiling and laughing as much as I could bear. Even on sad days. Especially on sad days.

I wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination, but I did find that if I could force a smile that I would feel a little better and bounce back more quickly from tough situations.

Yes, Forcing Yourself to Smile Actually Does Make You Feel a Little Better

I never gave much thought to it until 2012 when I read a study that found that people who artificially forced a smile more easily recovered from stressful situations.

They literally put chopsticks into people’s mouths to make them smile. And it worked.

Yes, really.

The effect held whether or not participants actually even knew they were smiling. The facial expression itself helped them cope better with stress.

Maybe my grandma was on to something, after all.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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