5 Surprising Health Benefits of Smiling

Forcing smiles at work linked to more after hours drinking, study finds

Nurses, teachers and those working in the service industry may be at risk

We’ve all forced a smile or two in front of clients, customers or coworkers. But according to new research from Penn State and the University at Buffalo, people who regularly fake positive emotions or suppress negative emotions may be at risk for heavier drinking after work.

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For the new research, published last month in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, scientists collected data from phone interviews with 1,592 American workers, part of the National Institutes of Health’s National Survey of Work Stress and Health.

Survey data included information on how often participants faked or suppressed emotions (also referred to as surface acting), how often and how much they drank after work, how impulsive they were and how much autonomy they feel they have in the workplace.

Generally, employees whose work involved more interaction with the public drank more after work compared to those who didn’t interact much with the public at work. Surface acting was also linked with drinking after work.

"The relationship between surface acting and drinking after work was stronger for people who are impulsive or who lack personal control over behavior at work," lead author and Penn State psychology professor Alicia Grandey said in a university article. "If you're impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to rein in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don't have that self-control to stop after one drink."

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Grandey noted that forcing smiles or suppressing negative emotions was less likely to create significant problems when the work was rewarding to employees. 

"Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons," Grandey said. "They're trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may ultimately be more draining or demanding."

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Employees in the latter group may be younger, working entry-level service jobs at a call center or coffee shop, “and may lack the self-control tendencies and the financial and social rewards that can buffer the costs of surface acting.”

Previous research from Grandey and other scientists has also connected surface acting with increased stress, emotional exhaustion, poorer physical health and overall lower job satisfaction.

She and her team urge employers to look out for employees and encourage autonomy at work.

Read the full study, currently behind a paywall, at psychnet.apa.com.

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