Austria     Belgium     Brazil     Canada     Denmark     Finland     France     Germany     Hungary     Iceland     Ireland     Italy     Luxembourg     The Netherlands     Norway     Poland     Spain     Sweden     Switzerland     UK     USA     

A Big Smile, Please: The real impact of smiling on our perception (Part 1)

It’s interesting that in business portraits and team photos, most people are seen wearing big smiles. Depending on the culture, this smile can be normal, cheerful, or unnaturally happy. This rule has been around for decades. Although most people think that this is positive and clearly appropriate, we should be aware that this attitude has an important role to play, because honesty has been drastically valued in the general business environment, and there is an increasingly negative perception of this habit. We also need to see that the future of our business, especially in a post-crisis period, is significantly influenced by the “little things” that can be linked to honesty. So it is worth paying attention to the changes!

Say cheese!

Most employees are not keen on company photoshoots. There are not only personality-based reasons for this – although they cannot be ignored – but everyone knows exactly what the purpose of the photos is and what kind of acting is required. As an entry-level manager, I always found it strange to see the “I am the happiest man in the world” photos, which were still primarily used in the USA, on company websites, in articles, and in magazines. I never believed they conveyed real emotion. I now see that I had presumptions, and my judgement was not always correct. But I did ask myself, in a job where you work 10-12 hours a day and barely earn enough to make ends meet, how can you appear in a group photo with a big smile? It is simply not real. This effect has been compounded, of course, by the advent of social media, which has destroyed the borders between business and private lives, and has quickly created a culture of communication that often completely ignores honesty. People are also slowly getting used to the idea that problems should be avoided, or even should not be talked about, as this could cause that “smiling” society to reject an individual. And no one in the workplace wants that. Then, more and more artists and films explored what lay behind those big smiles, and somehow the whole social order was transformed. Whereas in the past, everyone smiled because they thought it would make the outside world think they were happy, in the new, order we smile because everyone does and we know – or unfortunately, we don’t know, we just assume ¬– that half of those smiles are lies. We have become part of a great charade in which ordinary people can be seriously manipulated and have their moods influenced. On more than one occasion, people take this to social settings like nightclubs, shouting “smile!” to strangers. What is more, in the vast majority of cases, it is always the person who clearly has a broken life and eyes that betray a deep-rooted sadness who encourages others to smile. The final straw is that they are mostly trying to “cheer up” people who have genuinely happy lives. They are perfectly aware of this, so there is no need for any role-playing.

The real laughter

Moreover, the effect of pretenders is not only not positive in general, but also clearly harmful to those who smile despite their unhappiness. Because of all the insincere smiling, people no longer believe that people are genuinely enjoying themselves and are smiling because they are having fun. However, it is worth distinguishing between smiling and laughing. Mostly because if someone is laughing, it may not be because they have positive thoughts. It is possible to laugh at other people, and you don’t have to do it with your whole mouth. In certain cultures and professions, smiling mania is present at a serious level and has very complex psychological effects. The basic definition is that smiling is healthier, good for the mood and, therefore, the psyche, and improves mental well-being. But this is a false generalisation! Because if a person smiles insincerely, due to expectations, they are already seriously altering their personalities, which clearly means a loss of self-identity. So be careful with these general remarks! What is certain is that happiness has serious physiological benefits. It has a real impact on both physical and mental fitness. But smiling does not equal happiness. It is also true that there are personality types who can stimulate themselves from a “neutral mood” by smiling and achieving a more positive mental state. But again, it is not that a smile alone will solve everything. Genuinely happy people express their happiness in very different ways, so no conclusions can be drawn from smiling without knowing the character of the person.