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Is Smiling Unethical? - Scott Adams' Blog

Is Smiling Unethical?

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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