Smile All You Want, But It Doesn’t Mean You’re Happy
Jenny Galvao

According to research by Carlos Crivelli and his associates, a smile does not always signify happiness; in fact, social interactions seem to elicit smiles more than true happiness does.

Sometimes, basic emotions are not displayed so easily on our faces; body language, including facial expressions, can be complicated, especially when we’re looking to conceal how we truly feel inside. Smiling during a social interaction is common as it is seen as polite, however, it does not always correlate with true happiness.

“Facial expressions are tools for social interaction (Behavioral Ecology Theory), rather than read-outs of basic emotions (Facial Expression Program),” say the researchers.

In this experiment, the facial expressions of 55 judo fighters were video recorded as either they won matches and received either a gold or bronze medal. The athletes then answer questions on their emotional experience at the moment the match ended. They either reported feeling angry, disappointed, disgusted, euphoric, fearful, frustrated, guilty, happy, proud, sad, shameful, surprise, pleasure, displeasure, aroused, and relaxed), on a scale of 0 to 7..

The results showed that after winning a match, a smile was quite rare, and they were the most rare in judo fighters winning a preliminary round rather than a gold or bronze medal. The most common facial expression was an open mouth and a head facing down in gold medal winners.

Interestingly enough, the intensity ratings of their emotions in the self-reports differed only slightly from the fighters who smiled compared with those who did not smile upon winning a medal. Essentially, the athletes reported similar feelings but expressed that feeling very differently.

Judo competitions are serious, intense, and they can be quite nerve-wracking, like most competitions. It’s common to be humble about a victory in judo, which could be a factor in the lack of obvious smiles upon winning. Also, happiness ratings of fighters with genuine smiles did not differ from the ratings of those who did not display the smiles. Along with this, the ratings for arousal, pleasure, relaxation, and euphoric feelings of fighters who did smile, hardly differed from fighters who did not smile.

According to the researchers “facial expressions are behavioral outcomes of cognitive and motivational processes that can be instantiated into multiple ways depending on the social or environmental context in which they are produced.”

It can be concluded that sometimes our facial expressions don’t exactly convey how we feel. This is especially the case when we wish to hinder outer expressions of our inner feelings. Lastly, smiles can be a product of our environment; we can easily display a genuine smile during a social interaction, but we don’t always use these smiles to express true happiness.

Jenny Galvao_smallAbout the Author: Jenny Galvao is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph studying psychology.





Crivelli, Carlos; Pilar Carrera and José-Miguel Fernández-Dols. Are Smiles a Sign of Happiness? Spontaneous Expressions of Judo Winners. Journal of Evoluation and Human Behaviour. 2014. 36:52-58. 1090-5138.