Smiling is a wonderful thing.
When we smile, lots of great stuff happens in our brains. Neuropeptides and neurotransmitters are released, stress is reduced, our mood is elevated, our immune system is boosted, we immediately change the tone of our environment, and raise the vibrations all around us.
Smiling brings joy and it brightens the world, and I admit that I do want to smile more often, because who wouldn’t want to?
Nonetheless, if there is one thing I hate—next to strangers calling me honey or sweetheart, or being told that I look tired—is when people tell me I should smile.
All my adult life I was told to smile more: at my various workplaces, at the gym, in the most random places, usually by people who saw me with some consistency, but who didn’t necessarily know me.
People are different, and they can choose to show up as they please—some are light and flaky, some are heavy and dense, and others can be all of these things at different times.
Some people like small talk and laugh at every joke, others prefer deeper conversations and have a quirky kind of humor. I can go on and on about how we often are too quick to judge and assume things about people just by the little sliver of them that we might be exposed to.
Whether or not someone smiles or is happy is a great conversation to have with the people that matter in our life, but is certainly not a commonplace comment to give in small talk with acquaintances or strangers.
There is a place and a time for everything. The place to discuss someone’s smile is amongst close friends, lovers, and immediate family members—not at a supermarket checkout line, in the workplace, or in the company of strangers.
It’s understandable that people like to be surrounded by happy-looking individuals; after all, smiling is contagious, and authentically happy people will smile often, brightening up any space. However, it goes deeper than that.
There are people that put on a mask and hand out fake smiles all day, either because it’s ingrained in them from how they grew up, or because they make a conscious choice to hide their true emotions, or because that’s just how they cope with unpleasant situations.
Maybe they smile because they are used to never objecting to anything or fully express themselves. Maybe it’s just part of their job description.
Other people manipulatively use smiles to lure approval or to attain some sort of gain—be it financial, professional, or emotional.
So, let’s not be fooled. Not all smiles are created equal and whether or not someone is smiling is not an automatic indicator of their emotional state.
Keeping this in mind, here are five reasons why we should never ask someone we don’t know well, “Why don’t you smile?”
1. We are crossing a boundary. We don’t feel emotions on demand, nor should we feel forced to make any physical gesture (like smiling, hugging, or kissing) if we don’t want to. It’s a basic healthy boundary that we must respect and establish from a young age.
2. It is condescending. If we put this question through the lense of gender, we can see how vitally important it is not to ask it. Rarely do I hear a woman telling a man to smile. It is usually expected that women smile more often, and be pleasing in their appearance, as if their purpose is to pacify the surrounding male energy and complement the furniture.
Not to mention the worst comment of all, “You should smile more, you look prettier when you smile.” As if a woman’s only purpose in life is to be a pretty thing to look at. Argh! It is simply uncalled-for and condescending to ask anyone, especially a woman, to smile, unless you are taking a picture.
3. It’s ineffective. Saying, “You should smile more” is almost as ineffective as saying, “Calm down.” Even if the intentions behind the request are innocent, it’s the wrong approach.
Let’s say you notice that someone doesn’t look thrilled at work every day—what is the ultimate intention behind, “Hey why don’t you try smiling more often?” What is that going to accomplish besides putting that person on the spot and making them uncomfortable?
Instead, if you are so interested or concerned, try to talk to that person and get to know them, or even better, try putting a smile on their face with a kind gesture.
4. It’s just not your place. Simply put, who do you think you are to ask someone to smile more? Do you know about what that person is going through? Why is it your business? Should anyone’s responsibility be to please you with free smiles? It’s a matter of basic freedom and personal liberty—we have the right to feel our emotions and to be sad, happy, or neutral.
5. It’s not about you. A lot of times, the question stems from a place of discomfort. It makes us feel uneasy if a person doesn’t smile in our presence, as if they are expressing a judgment on us. While in reality, the chances that their lack of smiles has anything to do with us are close to none.
Finally, while we can all thrive to create warm environments where people feel safe to smile and we wish to raise the vibration of our interactions through a positive attitude, it is just not appropriate to intrude in other people’s space by asking them to smile, especially if you don’t know them.
So please, don’t ask me to smile.