From a very young age, we are taught to smile when we are having our photo taken, and as we get older we are often told that smiling is a positive thing for our health and wellbeing.
There are numerous articles about the benefits of smiling and how it can improve mood and reduce stress (among other things), and the scientific evidence cited is fairly clear on this fact. However, the advice never seems to extend to longer periods of time when “chronic” smiling can actually do more harm than good.
Those occasions when you find yourself maintaining a smile for hours at a time – parties and other social events, work conferences, or other situations where you are with lots of people – can be incredibly taxing on your body and mind.
Here are the 3 major downsides to non-stop “fake” smiling:
1. Smiling Requires Energy
The very act of smiling does take a tiny amount of energy, but the real energy use comes when we smile to appease the pressure that certain social situations place on us.
A natural smile will come and go as it pleases and there is no conscious thought triggering the upward movement of your mouth, which means no additional energy is required.
A forced smile, on the other hand, requires you to think, and thinking is tiring. When we have to study hard at school, for example, it can leave us mentally exhausted and this is, in part, due to the concentration required; putting on a smile for prolonged periods of time has a similar effect.
You’ve no doubt experienced the fatigue from smiling on more than one occasion, but you might not have been able to identify the true cause until now.
2. Smiling Can Make You Tense
There are a large number of muscles in the face and neck and when we smile, many of these are tensed. In short bursts, this is not an issue, but when you have a continuous smile on your face, the muscles will end up aching. There is a chance that your smile can even give you headaches and neck ache.
When you are putting on a smile, it’s not just your face that can tense up; you might find that your entire body does likewise. Without even realizing it, the concentration required to maintain the expression can spread to other limbs and also to your core.
Smiling, which is so often associated with relaxation, can actually lead to stress.
3. You Can’t Be Your Authentic Self
It isn’t particularly natural to maintain a smile on your face throughout the day. There might be some people for whom it comes very easily, but for the majority of us, a smile may only appear naturally on our faces a few times a day.
When we force ourselves to smile, we are not being our true selves. We are putting on an act for other people to see and while there’s no doubting that a smile can ease awkward social situations, you can have too much of a good thing.
Not being your authentic self is stressful and this only means more energy is required and more tension builds up. Your body, mind and spirit work in harmony when you are being authentic, but this balance disappears when you stop being yourself.
The Conscious Rethink: there is no doubting that a smile can be good for us given the right situations; a smile can make us feel better and help us to connect with other people. When we feel we have to keep that smile going for hours on end, however, the cons might just outweigh the pros. While we can’t rewrite social norms, we should allow ourselves to resist them just a little bit and relax our faces every so often.