Studies Reveals That Forcing Yourself To Smile At Work Can Lead To Heavy Drinking

Max JenkinsMax Jenkins in News, World
Published 31.10.19

We’ve all been through the gruelling experience of our friends, family, co-workers and even strangers on the street telling us we need to smile more. But studies conducted by Penn State University in Pennsylvania and Buffalo University in New York claim that acting on that advice can actually lead to an increase in alcohol consumption.

If you’re someone like me who has quite intense eyebrows and an embarrassing overbite, someone telling you to smile must have become part of your daily routine by now. I worked in a popular pub for a whole miserably sunny summer back in 2015 and was frequently subjected to comments such as ‘you know, you’d be better looking if you smiled more’ (Thanks.) What made it worse was I had an ongoing feud with one of the chefs, who nicknamed me ‘Smiler’ the minute I was introduced to him.

According to the report published by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, the study focused on subjects who worked in catering and hospitality (like me), school and university teachers, and those in the medical profession such as doctors and nurses.


Using data collated from interviews with 1,592 American workers, the study found that forcing or holding back emotions in the workplace (termed ‘surface acting’) connected the amount of alcohol they consumed afterwards, as well as how autonomous they felt and how impulsive they were with decisions.

Alicia Gradney, a professor in psychology at Penn State University, said in a press release: ‘Faking and suppressing emotions with customers was related to drinking beyond the stress of the job or feeling negatively.

‘It wasn’t just feeling badly that makes them reach for a drink. Instead, the more they have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work.’ 

In other words, forcing yourself to smile at work to keep other people happy takes so much self-control to maintain that once your working day is done, you’ve not got any left to control your drinking. It’s not totally an emotional thing – you’re not overdoing it because you hate your job and need something to take the edge off – more the fact that you’ve expended so much energy during working hours that there’s nothing left to combat your brain’s call for one more drink.


It also occurs on weekends, too.

Gradney went on to claim: ‘Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining.

‘In these jobs, there’s also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.

‘Employers may want to consider allowing employees to have a little more autonomy at work, like they have some kind of choice on the job, and when the emotional effort is clearly linked to financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.’ 


Basically, if the workers believe that their faux happiness isn’t going to help them progress in their job, they’re more likely to descend into alcoholism as a result of drained emotional energy during the day. But should employers allow their workers to have more control and free will over their engagement and sense of purpose, this is less likely to happen.

They also need to feel able to express their true emotions, even if they might be a tad negative.

‘Why don’t you smile more?’

‘I just don’t, so p*** off! … Did you want ice and a slice with that?’

Images via Getty