While being told to smile on a bad day has a good chance of making that day worse, there are both biological and economic benefits associated with keeping a permanent smirk on your face – even if you don’t really mean it.
It’s perhaps a little bit of a sad point but, in many industries, smiling is a practised art rather than a true gesture of happiness – there’s a reason celebrities know exactly how and when to smile. For example,Psychology Today notes that Peter Collett of Oxford University identified six situationally-relevant smiles specific to Diana, Princess of Wales, including a genuine “Spencer smile” and the endearing “dipped” smile.
A cheerful, bullet-proof demeanour is an obviously valuable asset in the service sector too. According to a recent infographic from couponing website Voucherbox, almost a quarter of 1,000 bar and restaurant guests surveyed were more likely to give a large tip to a member of staff with a pleasant smile – male or female.
Staff appearances, health, and hygiene in general have a strong correlation with a customer’s willingness to hand over more money. An attractive figure charmed 14% of diners while 11% would give a more substantial tip to a waiter or waitress with nice eyes. On the downside, an employee sporting dirty finger nails and a scruffy look received less money as a gratuity from 36% and 30% of customers, respectively.
Smiling is evidently a great way to get into somebody’s wallet but what’s so compelling
about it? Why are happy faces so endearing?
The art and science of smiling has been part of scientific literature going back to the days of Charles Darwin, who wrote that the expression is one of precious few gestures that have the same connotations throughout the world. In contrast, the hand signal that means “okay” in the West refers to something else entirely in Brazil and Russia.
There are lots of different ways to smile. While that might sound unlikely, it’s not all that surprising given that there are at least ten muscles involved in smiling. It’s also possible for one person to have up to 40% more facial muscles than the next, meaning that a friend might have a rather more gymnastic face than you do.
The contagious nature of smiling sounds a little more like magic than biology though, and
involves something called emotional mirroring. Smiling makes other people smile because
humans have evolved to empathise with others by mimicking their facial expressions or
movements. Put another way, a child might imitate a hand-wringing gesture to approximate
the feeling of anxiety in an elder.
Combine the above with the fact that our expressions can actually alter our emotions in both positive and negative ways (researchers at the University of Cardiff discovered that people who can’t frown, such as those who have Botox injections, are more cheerful than those who can) and it’s entirely possible to change somebody’s mood just by smiling at them.
In summary, smiling at a customer at a bar or table can be more of an emotional “gift” than a polite gesture, one that sometimes has its own rewards.