As human beings, we are trained to fit into our culture. In fact, in most parts of the world, if you do not fit in, you are outcast and consequently unhappy. We must learn specific nonverbal behaviors such as what to say in certain company, how to act, and how to control your facial expressions. Nonverbal Behaviors in Interpersonal Relations by Richmond, McCroske, and Hickson states that,
“As we observe infants and very young children, we see that they do spontaneously express the emotions they feel. As they grow older, however, they become socialized into the adult world of their culture. As with anything else, they learn certain facial display rules that they must follow in particular social situations. As this learning process begins to take hold, facial expressions and feelings become somewhat divorced. In short, we learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in terms of expressive behavior” (72-3).
Despite “be yourself” advertisements and other celebrations of independence and individuality here in America, we still expect each other to play by certain rules. For example, smiling politely when you would rather stop listening and turn away, a male holding back tears in front of his friends, and acting surprised and elated when you open your Christmas present from your grandmother—socks, again—are all examples of trained expressions. I remember being trained by my mom as I was growing up to “raise your eyebrows, open your eyes, smile, and look pleasant wherever you go.”
My mom is the queen of appearances. She firmly believes that if you dress your best, act your best, and look your best then you will ultimately feel “best.” I always roll my eyes at her when she comes to visit and asks me for the millionth time in a disapproving tone, “Do you wear those Nike shorts and t-shirt out of the house?!” But I think she has a point, because when I dress up, do my hair, makeup, etc, I always feel like a much brighter, together person. Just like dressing to look our best, when we try walking around with a constant smile, it positively affects our mood. Try it sometime!