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Trying To Smile Can Make You Miserable

By Debbie Mandel

Most of us have been told to act “as if,” and then we will become what we pretend to be. However, this might not necessarily be the case. Northwestern University researchers report that fake smiling actually has the opposite effect in “Not Always the Best Medicine: Why Frequent Smiling Can Reduce Wellbeing,” the July 2014 issue of Experimental Social Psychology.

For many years the belief circulated that lifting the corners of your mouth upwards sent the brain a signal to be happy – the simple act of smiling. However, this new study confirms what some of the participants in my stress management workshops have told me throughout the years: “It doesn’t work.” The overwhelming response was that feeling pressured to smile in order to be in a better mood actually created stress about not being happy in the first place. Pretend smiling fell into the same useless pile along with reciting affirmations which people didn’t believe.

Why does everyone want to be happy? Aside from the emotional lift, happiness jumpstarts health and wellness, which include improving the cardiovascular and immune systems. However, faking happiness with a smile reduces wellbeing far more than not smiling.

Clearly happiness has to be genuine to sustain a good mood and well-being. Telling someone to cheer up or smile is counterproductive. Sometimes people smile to mask their true emotions like when someone is embarrassed or hurt – the equivalent of a nervous laugh. Better to express the truth and let it go then cover it up with a smile. So, if you don’t feel like smiling – don’t!

12 roads to a reasonable happiness:
  1. Be honest with yourself and others. Suppression is toxic physically and mentally.
  2. Don’t worry about perfection because nothing is perfect for long.
  3. Don’t get stuck in a problem. Put your energy into a solution which changes up your energy from a victim to someone with the power to choose.
  4. Slow down and relax. Overworked, technologically-overloaded and sleep-deprived people generally see the cup as half empty because they are running on half empty.
  5. Live in the present to be alive and alert.
  6. Take control of what influences you absorb. Good moods are contagious. Call up or visit a cheerful person who lifts you up.
  7. Think about what made you happy as a child. Get back to basics to get on track.
  8. Use movie therapy. Watch a comedy or happy movie.
  9. Creativity fills an empty heart. The word recreation has re-creation in it. Often an old dream or idea is born again – like a familiar friend – but one has to be quiet to listen and focused to see.
  10. See the positive side of completion and make a chore fun.
  11. Want what you have.
  12. Redirect your attention to what is right with your world. You are not being naďve, but rather choosing to believe in the good and feeling grateful for the little things.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: