I smile for at least two reasons:

1.       I am happy.

2.       I want to influence someone.

If you smile because you're happy, that seems honest enough. But what about smiling when you're not feeling it on the inside, such as during a job interview, or while trying to make a good impression on a potential love interest? Is it ethical to fake-smile?

Research backs common sense on this topic: Smiling influences how people feel about you, and that in turn influences how they act. So if you smile for strategic reasons, you're not a genial personality so much as you are a manipulative bastard.

On the other hand, don't we all have an implied obligation to make the world a better and happier place? If a fake smile causes a real smile in others, and that initiates their happiness subroutine as science says it will, aren't you - the fake smiler - sort of a living saint and a spreader of joy? Or are you still a manipulative bastard?

I was thinking of this recently because an employee at my local UPS store told me I have a "great smile." I thanked her for the compliment, even though my dentist deserves most of the credit. But I felt a little guilty about it because she was reacting to my professional smile as opposed to my happy smile. And by that I mean that I make a special effort to smile during business transactions because it makes my experience and that of others a little bit nicer. And it's free, so why not?

Smiles are like compliments in the sense that they cost you nothing while having a real impact on the happiness of others. So I try to dole out both smiles and compliments whenever I get the chance. But I have a tiny reservation about the honesty of it all. I never give out false compliments, so that part is honest. And I generally don't smile at people unless I think they deserve it. But there's no doubt that it is intended for effect, and therefore manipulative by definition.

Do you ever smile with the intention of manipulating others? And if you don't, why are you so selfish?


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Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +45
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Aug 30, 2013
i think scott should have taken his musing 1 step further and realized this woman was giving him a fake compliment to manipulate him. his self adoration (his own smile no less) blinded him to her evil machinations.

he was able to introspectively realize he thinks fake compliments are unethical, but not apply it to the harsh world he lives in.

my favorite part is when he pretended to be self deprecating (while his ego assumed there is something of value his dentist would publicly admit to) while reinforcing the lie that his smile won't make children cry.

just kidding, im sure scott, as a former 'knowledge' worker, has a body that is not entirely devoid of utility and beauty.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 24, 2013
[If a stranger tells me I have a "great smile", the first thing I do is check that my wallet is still there.]

I'm guessing you don't hear it that often. :D
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 24, 2013
I have suffered from suicidal depression for about 23 years. I make it a habit to smile to avoid "infecting" others with my sadness and what I think of as a bad attitude. I don't consider this dishonest, it is more like wearing makeup to cover a scar. I suspect that regular social smiling is analogous to the way women wear makeup and both sexes wear clothing intended to make us most attractive.
I realize there is some dishonesty in this, but at the same time, would you want a 400 lb individual being "honest," about their appearance in a thong bathing suit?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2013
By that logic, there's no such thing as altruism, because any attempt at it makes one feel better and is therefore selfish. It's a fun paradox, and perhaps that's your point.

There was even a "Friends" episode dedicated to this. Phoebe was chided by her friends that every altruistic act she did made her happy and was therefore not altruistic.
Aug 23, 2013
There's a creepy new plastic surgery in Korea to put a permanent smile on your face. (google "smile lipt"). I'm just praying this story turns out to be a hoax.

Aug 23, 2013
Are you hypnotizing us again to friend you on Facebook and LinkedIn?
Aug 23, 2013
With a fake smile you are not trying to defraud anybody or steal anything, you are just trying to be nice. When the hell did that become a crime?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2013
I cannot fake/ put up a smile, I am physically not able to do it. I have often tried it for pictures and it looks just plain dumb. So I only smile "for real". As a consequence, people either give up on trying to please me, or they try real hard and long. It is kind of a filter against superficial contacts.
Aug 23, 2013
People who smile without an obvious reason make me nervous. I feel like they're hiding something in order to get something I wouldn't otherwise give. I expect this from waiters and sales people, but other than that, if you're going to smile at me you better have a good reason, because I'm not fooled by your little smiley mask.

I'm not kidding.
Aug 23, 2013
What about those of us who don't have a natural smile?

I tend to be deadpan even when having a perfectly swell time, which causes trouble with people (usually female) who expect great toothy grins and peals of laughter upon, say, the opening of a greeting card or the tasting of an appetizer. At the very least, they register disappointment.

This holds even when I immediately express my very real pleasure, gratitude, amusement and/or culinary approval. Any conscious effort to smile or laugh tends to make matters worse ("If you don't like it, just say so." . . . "Can you just smile NICELY for the picture?").

By way of compensating, I go out of my way to be polite and express appreciation for all the services and courtesies, great and small, that are offered in everyday life (and there are a lot of them, if you pay any attention). It works to the extent people seem to get I'm not a surly jerk. Not completely, anyway.

But I envy persons of my acquaintance who can't help beaming and being thrilled by almost anything that isn't actually terrible. People blessed with this natural enthusiasm -- and the tendency to radiate it unselfconsciously -- have a natural advantage that's close to physical beauty. Perhaps superior in that it ages better. The frumpy old lady who seems genuinely pleased you got the door for her makes you want to get the next door, to continue wallowing in this recognition of your altruism.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 22, 2013
You missed a great chance to use "unrelatedly", which I am trying to get accepted as a word. Please try harder next time.

(Yes, there is a need for relatedly/unrelatedly as no other single word conveys the exact meaning.)
Aug 22, 2013
I think smiling is only minipulative if you're using it for nefarious reasons. For example, I'll smile at the Customs Officer in the airport so they recognize me as the nice, law abiding citizen that I am. That's not minipulative, it's a visual aid. Now if I was smiling in hopes that they wouldn't recognize me as a constipated drug mule, THAT would be minipulative. I only hope they know the difference...

Aug 22, 2013
Scott, did you consider that your wife might be running a marriage-fidelity sting operation?

I'd advise the next time you get a similar compliment, jump onto the nearest table with your phone in video record mode and try to catch her PI hiding in the back.

Aug 22, 2013
If a stranger tells me I have a "great smile", the first thing I do is check that my wallet is still there. If it is, I just assume they've recently completed Dale Carnegie training.

+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 22, 2013
The most insufferable people in the world are the ones who believe in being 100% honest about their feelings at all times. I don't see that as a more honest way to live - just a more self-centered way.

I work at smiling to strangers as well - because I'm an introvert. I'm not necessarily unhappy. I'm just not naturally inclined to pay attention to the impact of my actions and facial expressions on folks around me the way my more extroverted friends are. I'm told I can look cold and intimidating in my natural state - but, honestly - I'm usually just lost in thought.

Why should I give out the impression I don't see other people as worthy of a smile - just because I don't "feel" like smiling?
+34 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 22, 2013
It's funny that Scott believed the UPS employee's compliment. She is obviously a selfish manipulative bastard.
Aug 22, 2013
I saw what you did there!
You're up to your old hypnotism tricks again.
You've got everybody gurning at their screen, trying out their business smiles and their real ones and getting all their endorphins bubbling - and then you stick in the link to your facebook page. I clicked it myself and don't even do facebook.
Congratulations - it's worthy of Dogbert himself.
Aug 22, 2013
Everyone has to agree that babies are selfish, manipulative bastards. Smiles, giggles, screams, whatever it takes to get what they want. I think it is completely natural and amoral.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 22, 2013
Interweb tubes definition of Unethical:
Not conforming to approved standards of social or professional behavior; "unethical business practices".

I guess it's unethical if it allows you to participate in unethical business practices. The smile itself is probably only a small fraction of the unethical behavior if that's the case. In most cases the smile itself would conform to approved standards of social or professional behavior. I deem it ethical.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 22, 2013
You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.

-Al Capone
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