Smile Even Though It's Breaking

Smile Even Though It's Breaking

Before the world descended into yet another wave of illness and death, western media was promoting a smiling course offered in Japan.

It proved that everyone was getting back to "normal," even countries with strong masking cultures. If you enrolled in the course, you spent all day practicing for an app that rated your smile.

If you scored below an 80, you failed.

Around the world, our bosses and even our teachers have been pressuring us and our families to take off our N95 masks and "show us your smile." The corporate world has celebrated "the return of smiles," when they really meant the return of mass consumption and retail profits. It's yet another example of how the toxic positivity pervading our culture hides deep cruelty and a reckless disregard for human life.

Toxic optimists have weaponized the smile. If you want to marginalize or silence someone, just call them "negative."

It's highly effective.

We're told to smile instead of criticizing those in power. We're told to smile instead of demanding fair pay. We're told to smile instead of doing anything practical or political about our problems.

That way, nothing changes.

It's a little ironic that the elite are trying to turn our smiles themselves into yet another commodity that can be exchanged and evaluated. Nothing could be more antithetical to happiness than the fake, transactional, conditioned smiles that dominate western consumer culture. For years now, we've been told that smiling when you feel bad is somehow good for you.

Psychologists refer to it as surface acting.

It's deeply unhealthy.

A study at Michigan State found that fake smiling doesn’t make you feel better. It hurts your mood and degrades your mental health. It's bad for everyone, but especially women. As the authors say, “Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men and they withdrew more from work.” Fake smiling for long periods of time increases your sense of imposter syndrome. It hurts your confidence.

Another study at the University of Arizona found several downsides to fake smiling. They learned that employees who forced themselves to smile while faking a positive attitude felt worse overall. One study found that telling someone to smile, especially a woman, leads to an immediate drop in self-esteem. It makes them self-conscious. It hampers workplace communication.

It lowers productivity.

As one researcher says, “Maybe plastering on a smile is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.”

Another study found that fake smiling and surface acting correlate with more unethical behavior. The more someone fake smiles, the more comfortable they feel engaging in other deceptive behaviors. They learn to lie, especially in the service of suppressing or hiding negative information.

We've seen a lot of that.

Over the last decade, several major studies have challenged the idea that smiling makes you happier. They’ve failed to replicate any of the earlier experiments that forcing yourself to smile improves your mood. At best, it results in a temporary boost far outweighed by the side effects. In one case, researchers even learned that forced smiling can lead to heavy drinking among cashiers and servers. They’re having to smile for their paycheck, even while putting up with all kinds of nasty behavior and abuse from customers and clientele.

You’d probably want a drink, too.

Psychologists and sociologists have found a class dynamic at work here. As one writer put it, “while forcing smiles may help people in power feel more comfortable, it can be quite dangerous to the health of those being told to smile.” It's almost never an innocent suggestion. It's managers telling employees. It's customers telling staff. It's students telling teachers. It's popular kids telling weirdos. It's the neurotypical telling the neurodivergent. It's men telling women. It's older employees telling younger employees.

It's the rich telling the poor.

Corporations and politicians frequently invoke our "smiles" in an effort to quash dissent and pressure the public into acting against their interests. Nobody wants to be seen as negative or pessimistic.

Bullies use this strategy all the time in real life.

We should be creating a world where everyone actually feels like smiling because they feel seen and cared for, not a world where everyone has to perform a fake smile just to keep shareholders happy. These forced smiles are yet another sign of what's wrong with our culture.

When someone tells you to smile, they're not doing it for your sake. They don't care how it makes you feel. They're doing it for themselves. They're displaying their dominance. Your smile makes them feel better. They're willing to pressure you into it, regardless of what it does to your health.

There's nothing positive about that.

It's just sadism.

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