Home All Smile and the World Smiles with You… or So They Say

Smile and the World Smiles with You… or So They Say

written by Bridget Grenville-Cleave 23 March 2011

Bridget Grenville-Cleave, MAPP graduate of the University of East London, is a UK-based positive psychology consultant, trainer and writer. She is author of Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide (2012), and The Happiness Equation with Dr Ilona Boniwell. She regularly facilitates school well-being programs and Positive Psychology Masterclasses for personal and professional development. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter @BridgetGC. Website. Full bio. Her articles are here.

The happy couple

I don’t know what it is about March but for me it’s such an optimistic month. Spring is well and truly here, the buds are appearing, daffodils blooming and gone are the long dark days of winter. Spring is also the time for love and romance – you can just picture the scene, the happy couple smiling as they emerge from the church, wedding bells ringing in the air and confetti floating like blossom on the wind.

Yearbook Smiles

Thinking about smiling, marriage and well-being, one piece of research that every student of positive psychology can reel off is the Yearbook Study, in which the genuineness (or ‘Duchenne-ness’ as Chris Peterson calls it) of women students’ smiles in their college yearbook photos predicted, 30 years later, whether they were married and scored highly on life satisfaction, good relationships and managing stress. This study by Lee Anne Harker and Dacher Keltner in 2001 is often used to illustrate the ‘build’ aspect of Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions – that positive emotions are about more than just feeling good, they help to build social and psychological resources too. In short feeling happy now is much more than an end in itself, it’s also an important influence on your future well-being.

One of the limitations of this research is, obviously, that its participants are all female – it used data from a pre-existing study (the Mills Longitudinal Study) – and I wonder how much it also applies to men. Do men’s smiles now predict future happy marriages and personal life satisfaction?

But What About Men?

Yesterday I accidentally came across a little snippet of new research by Simine Vazire, Laura Naumann, Peter Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling on smiling which suggests that male and female smiles don’t mean the same thing. In other words smiling reflects different emotions depending on gender. This study found that smiling is positively associated with positive emotion in women but not in men. In men, smiling is negatively associated with negative emotion. Curious isn’t it?

Equally happy?

Equally happy?

In the study, 76% of women smiled compared to only 41% of men, although they experienced similar levels of positive emotion (measured using the PANAS – Positive and Negative Affect Scale).  In short, positive emotion is a strong positive predictor of smiling for women but not for men, and negative emotion is a strong negative predictor of smiling for men but not for women.

Different Adaptations for Men and Women?

So, if we’ve got this right it would seem that women smile when they’re happy, and men smile when…well…they’re not unhappy. In line with Jacob Vigil’s socio-relational framework of expressive behaviours (which in lay terms means that the way we express certain emotions is adaptive and motivates others to respond to us in ways which enhance our social fitness) Simine Vazire and her colleagues suggest that in women, smiling signals warmth, trustworthiness and enthusiasm to others, and in doing so attracts fewer and more intimate relationships (not sure about the fewer!), whereas in men, smiling signals confidence, calmness and a lack of self-doubt and distress, which apparently attracts numerous, less intimate relationships.

If that’s the case, then this adds some further detail to Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory. Perhaps the Yearbook Study isn’t quite as straightforward as it’s often portrayed, and the positive emotional paths to future well-being are rather more winding than direct. It would be interesting to see if a similar study of men’s smiling  or unsmiling yearbook photos resulted in similar well-being outcomes.

It’s a bit of a cliché that men complain that they don’t understand women, but to me it now seems the other way round. I mean, what is it that men do when they’re feeling happy then, if it’s not smiling? Any suggestions??




Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotion in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(1), 112-124.

Vazire, S., Naumann, L.P., Rentfrow, P.J.& Gosling, S.D. (2009). Smiling reflects different emotions in men and women. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32(5), 403 -405. Abstract.

Vigil, J.M. (2009). A socio-relational framework of sex differences in the expression of emotion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32 (5), 375 -390.

Zhivotovskaya, E. (2008). Smile and Others Smile with You: Health Benefits, Emotional Contagion, and Mimicry. Positive Psychology News Daily.



The happy couple: Bride, you may kiss by e3000

Equally happy?:  Promenade in the rain by seanmcgrath

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Nona Wilson 23 March 2011 - 11:58 am

This is quite interesting–and it raises another question for me in terms of the gender differences. I wonder if the relationship between women smiling in their yearbook photos and their later marital status is not solely about “happiness” but about adherence to sex role expectations. That is, women are traditionally encouraged to be non-threatening and to give lots of reassurance (particularly to men) and at times “compulsive” smiling is one common way women signal that. Might it be that the genuine smiles on women’s faces in their yearbooks are also related to the degree to which they have bought into traditional sex roles and thus might both value marriage more and be more satisfied within that role later on–and that men find such sex role adherence an attractive quality for a future spouse?

Ryan Niemiec 23 March 2011 - 12:00 pm

Thanks Bridget.

One new study (2011) by business scholars at Michigan State University found that customer service workers who fake smile throughout their day have worse mood and withdraw from work, which then lowers their productivity. Those who smiled as a result of cultivating positive thoughts, improved their mood and withdrew less.

On a second note, I greatly support the intervention that the humble but prolific monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, promotes, which is to cultivate a “half-smile” while practicing mindfulness. I’ve done this for years and usually notice an immediate impact.

Ryan Niemiec

oz 23 March 2011 - 2:14 pm

Bridget – I have always been critical that PP has way too much of a western bias. In retrospect I was only partly right – its also gender biased. It’s interesting that many of the common PP interventions seem to work for women and not men – eg gratitude, forgiveness. Again this shouldn’t be surprising as much of the research is undertaken on female psychology students. Even the men who undertake psychology studies tend to have a number of female traits.

Again interesting that its females who are attracted to PP – it rings true to them – and not so for men.

So what do men do?

Personally I smile on the inside – sort of like what Ryans talking about. Like Ryan I also find this a powerful meditation technique.

I also would admit that I smile more when I’m not unhappy – seems like an easier way. I would say that this is typically when I’m calm and confident – remember most people don’t think of these as positive emotions – and from memory the PANAS doesn’t pick them up

I now understand why I seem to get more males than females at my workshops – they are very male oriented. I don’t think I have ever discussed the year book study, gratitude or forgiveness. Always thought it was guff – based on research for the last two and intuition for the last – well not so any more

Thanx for this research. Its the icing on the cake for my presentations.

Sherri Fisher 23 March 2011 - 2:18 pm

Hi, Bridget-
Sometimes we forget when looking at a provocative study’s results that there might be “more research needed”. In Dacher Keltner’s Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (see review here: https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/sherri-fisher/200903051620),the chapter entitled “Smile” provides both context and additional research for a deeper understanding of the yearbook study. There is D-smile research done with both genders, and I encourage you to see what it says.

And to Nona–maybe those D-smiling coeds were indeed happy, and not because they had “bought in” to a stereotype, which would suggest that they were faking it.

James Hawkins 24 March 2011 - 4:38 pm

Hi Bridget

Guys seem to do better if they smile too, see:

Abel, E. L. and M. L. Kruger (2010). “Smile intensity in photographs predicts longevity.” Psychol Sci 21(4): 542-544. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=20424098.
(As described in the BPS Research Digest at http://www.bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/ on 11/6/10) Look at a person’s photo and it’s tempting to think you can see their personality written all over it: stony-faced individuals appear somber; others flashing a big, toothy grin seem more genial. An intriguing new study claims that these smiles are a reliable marker of underlying positive emotion and as such are predictive of a person’s longevity. Ernest Abel and Michael Kruger had five people rate the smile intensity of 230 baseball players according to photos featured in the 1952 Baseball Register. The researchers used a three-point smile scale: no smile, half smile (mouth only), and genuine ‘Duchenne’ smile (muscles contracted around the mouth and corners of the eyes). Focusing on the 150 players who’d died by the time of the study and controlling for extraneous factors such as BMI and marital status, the researchers found that those who were flashing a genuine ‘Duchenne Smile’ were half as likely to die in any given year compared with non-smilers. Indeed, the average life-span of the 63 deceased non-smilers was 72.9 years compared with 75 years for the 64 partial smilers and 79.9 years for the 23 Duchenne smilers. A follow-up study was similar to the first but observers rated the attractiveness of the same players rather than their smile intensity. Unlike smile intensity, attractiveness bore no relation to longevity. ‘To the extent that smile intensity reflects an underlying emotional disposition, the results of this study are congruent with those of other studies demonstrating that emotions have a positive relationship with mental health, physical health, and longevity,’ the researchers said.

Best wishes


Oz 24 March 2011 - 5:52 pm

James, do you really think extrapolating a sample of professional sports people is appropriate. I can think of a whole series of confounding factors.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com