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Smiling and Happiness in Cultural Perspective

Issue: Vol.10, No.4 - October 2011

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  1. Dr Piotr Szarota
    Institute of Psychology, Polish Academy of Sciences

Three distinctive smile codes (American, Japanese, and Polish) have been analysed in detail. Smiling appears to be closely related to cultural norms and values, in Japan it would be social harmony, in US, cheerfulness and friendliness, and in Poland, sincerity. I discuss an idea that the way a given culture constructs a social act of smiling is related to the cultural ideas of “happiness”. While American ethic of cheerfulness is closely connected to the cultural preoccupation with happiness, which is construed as one of those internal attributes that are to be pursued and attained via personal striving, Japanese and Poles understand happiness as something ephemeral and temporary. I argue that the motivation for smiling differs from culture to culture, Americans usually smile to present themselves as happy and friendly, Japanese want to look agreeable and self-controlled, and Poles seldom engage in social smiling because in their view the smile should reflect the inner feelings.

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