There are many ways that someone can smile at you and there are multiple possible meanings behind it. This post will try to help you figure out what it might mean when someone smiles at you.

So, what does it mean when someone smiles at you? There are multiple possible meanings of a smile. Possible meanings would be that they are gloating about beating you at something, they might be pleased to see you, it can show comfort or even a lack of comfort, it can also signal lying, submission and attraction.

To figure out what the meaning behind a smile might mean it would be beneficial to consider the environment, your history with the person, the way that they smiled and other body language signals that they are giving you.

Possible reasons why someone might smile at you

There are actually many reasons that a person might smile and the timing and type of smile will likely go hand in hand with other body language signals that they are showing. Below I will mention a number of reasons that a person might smile at you.

To say “Haha I got you”

This could be considered as more of a smirk than a smile. If a person smiles at you after beating you at something mischievous and then they don’t get in trouble for it then they might give you a sinister type of smile designed to rub salt in the wounds.

This type of smile will usually be easy to recognize and may cause you to get very frustrated when someone does it.

Shows that they’re glad to see you

One reason that a person might smile is that they are genuinely glad to see you. When this happens the smile will be a genuine smile where they show the top row of teeth and they crease slightly at the sides of the eyes.

This type of smile will likely come right after they see you or after you tell a joke that they find funny.

There will likely be a number of other positive body language signals that the person will show along with this type of smile.

They will likely have dilated pupils because the pupils dilate when we’re happy. They will likely be pointing their feet towards you and not towards the exit. They may talk at a higher pitch than usual. They may also talk to you more than others, touch you more frequently and they may hold their gaze with you for slightly longer.

They’re comfortable

One meaning of a smile is that the person is comfortable in the setting that they’re in. This type of smile will be a genuine smile as described above.

Some, body language signals that would likely accompany this would be having the arms in an open position, dilated pupils, feet facing away from the exit, no foot tapping, they will be more likely to add to the discussion, there will be a lack of face or neck rubbing and they may mirror other peoples body language.

Holding back disagreement

The smile might signal that the person is holding back something. This type of smile won’t appear to be a genuine smile and will appear more as a smirk. They would also likely do it right after you say something that they disagree with.

This type of smile would likely come with a number of other body language signals that can signal some level of discontent. That might include neck or face rubbing, crossed arms and legs, pupil constriction, they may withdraw their feet or point them towards the exit or they might cover their neck.

They’re lying

People will often smile when they are telling a lie. This type of smile won’t appear to be a genuine smile and will be more likely to occur when they say something or right after they have said something.

This type of smile will likely come with some body language signals that show discontent. This could include rubbing or touching the neck or face, they might cover their neck when they speak, their pupils may constrict, they might point their toes inward or they may point their feet towards the exit and they might make a contradictory gesture when they say something like nodding the head when saying no.

A lack of comfort

Smiling can actually signal a lack of comfort if the smile appears as more of a half-smile where the person doesn’t crease beside the eyes or they only smile with their lips.

This type of smile would be more likely to occur in a social setting when one of their friends looks at them or asks them something. The person may give the half-smile to show that everything is ok and to avoid drawing any attention to themselves.

This type of smile will likely come with other body language signals that may signal discomfort like slouching, constricted pupils, neck or face touching or rubbing, pointing feet towards the exit, foot-tapping, not adding to the discussion, covering the neck, rubbing the legs or rubbing the hands along the palms.

Mirroring

When someone is with a person or a group of people that they like they will often begin to mirror their behavior.

If you know that the person that smiled at you likes you then it could be that the smile was a subconscious mirroring behavior designed to build rapport with you. If you have a habit of smiling yourself then it would make it more likely that someone will smile at you to mirror your behavior.

This is one reason that it would be good for you to get into the habit of smiling since people will feel better about you if it causes them to mirror your smile.

Submission/insecurity

Chimpanzees will smile when in a confrontation to submit to other, more aggressive, chimpanzees.

One reason that the person might smile is that they are nervous and the smiling is a subconscious way of trying to submit to someone else.

This type of smiling would be more likely to occur in an altercation or if they’re talking to someone in a higher position than then such as when a worker is talking with their boss.

This type of smiling would likely be accompanied with things such as looking away, pointing the feet away, possible sweating, neck or face rubbing, covering the neck, rubbing the palms or the thighs and they may engage in foot tapping.

Flirtation

The reason that someone might smile might be a way of letting you know that they find you attractive.

This type of smiling would be more likely to occur in a social setting. They will also likely show other signs of attraction. They may glance at you frequently, they might point their feet at you, they would likely talk to you more than others, they may touch you frequently, they would hold their gaze with you for longer, and their pupils will often dilate when they are with you.

Consider the setting

When trying to figure out the meaning behind a smile thinking about the setting could help you.

If you’re in a social environment and you don’t know the person that smiled at you then it would make it more likely to be due to attraction assuming they’re showing other signs of attraction such as glancing at you more frequently.

Whereas, if a friend smiles at you in a social setting it would make it more likely that they’re signaling to you that they’re ok.

If the person doing the smiling does it in a business setting then it could be due to signaling or submission depending on the status of the person that is doing it.

Consider other body language signals they are showing

It’s important not to draw conclusions from single body language signals and the smiling will likely come with a number of other body language signals for you to look for that will tell you more about how they are feeling.

  • Feet

You would likely be surprised at just how much you can learn about how a person is feeling based on what their feet are doing. When we grow up we learn to cover our emotions with our faces but we rarely think about what our feet might be saying. This can make signals being conveyed by the feet very reliable signals.

If a person begins to tap one of their feet or they point them away from a certain person or towards an exit then it can signal that they want to leave or that they feel uncomfortable around a certain person.

Whereas, if they like a certain person they will often point their feet towards that person.

When people are genuinely excited they will begin to bounce their feet up and down. This means that if someone bounces their feet up and down and gives you a genuine smile when they see you then it would suggest that they are really pleased to see you.

  • Eyes

When we’re happy it can cause our pupils to dilate while being sad can cause our pupils to constrict. If, when the person smiled at you, their pupils constricted it would suggest that the smile was covering up some feeling of nervousness or anxiety. While, if the smile was combined with dilated pupils then it would suggest that they are very pleased to see you.

Another thing that can hint at a person’s emotional state is if they squint or open the eyes more widely. If they squint when giving a non-genuine smile it would hint at feelings of resentment. While having the eyes more widely opened can hint at good feelings towards you.

The frequency of a person’s blinking can also tell you something about a person’s feelings. If you notice that they are blinking more than usual then it would suggest that they are feeling anxious.

  • Neck rubbing or touching

If you notice that the person rubs their neck after smiling then it would suggest that the smile wasn’t genuine and that they might be feeling anxious.

  • Covering front of neck

Another thing that can show signs of anxiety is the covering of the front of the neck. If the person covers the front of the neck after smiling then that could also suggest that the smile was covering up feelings of anxiety or it could suggest that the smile was in submission.

  • Rubbing the face, legs or palms

If the person rubs their face, legs or palms after they smile then that would also suggest that they aren’t really feeling good and that they have feelings of anxiety in that moment.

  • Proximity

How closely a person chooses to stand near you can also tell you something about their feelings towards you. If the person gave you what appeared to be a genuine smile and you notice that they tend to stand close to you then that would suggest that they enjoy your company. While if the smile didn’t appear genuine and they tend to stand far away from you then that would suggest the opposite.

It’s important to note that the area that a person grew up in can influence their comfort zones. If a person was brought up in a rural area then they might choose to stand further away from you despite actually liking you.

  • Touching

If the person gave you what appeared to be a genuine smile and you notice that they have a habit of touching you more frequently then that would suggest that they are genuinely pleased to see you.

  • If they look away often

If you didn’t think that they gave you a genuine smile but you notice that they are looking away often then that would suggest that they are feeling a bit anxious and they might actually want to leave. In this case, you should also look to see if their feet are pointing towards the exit or away from you.

  • Crossed arms

If the person only smiled with their lips and they had their arms closed then it would suggest that they are hiding something from you and that they are not feeling happy in that moment.

  • Vocal tone

A change in a person’s vocal tone may tell you something about their emotions. If a person smiles at you then talks in a higher pitch voice then that would suggest that they are excited to see you. Although, if it is a man then he may speak in a deeper voice if he is attracted to you.

  • Gazing

If the person gave what appeared to be a genuine smile and they tend to hold their gaze with you for longer then that would suggest that they are pleased to see you.

Consider your history with the person

Your current relationship with a person will also tell you a lot about what their smile might mean.

If you know that a person likes you then that would suggest that their smile was genuine if they did it when they first saw you. Alternatively, the smile might have been designed to let you know that they’re ok if it was while they were with others.

If you have had a bad history with the person then that would make it more likely that the smile was more of a smirk especially if they did it after doing something bad to you.

Consider when they smiled

Another thing that you should consider is when they smiled. If it was right when they saw you then it would be likely to have a different meaning if it was after being with you for 10 minutes.

Was it when they first saw you?

If the person smiled right when they first saw you then it would make it more likely that the smile was a genuine smile.

Was it right after saying something?

If the person gave the smile right after saying something questionable then it would make it more likely that they’re lying and that it’s causing them to feel some anxiety. In this case, you should look for other behaviors that would signal anxiety-like pupil constriction or rubbing their neck, face, arms or legs.

Was it after they did something?

If the person smiled right after doing something then it would be more likely to suggest that either they’re having fun doing what they’re doing or they’re gloating about getting away with something.

Why you should smile more

There are a number of reasons that you should try to get into the habit of smiling more often.

  • Improves your mood

If you get into the habit of smiling more you’ll likely find that it will improve your mood. This can help you to reduce your stress levels and it can help you to avoid a number of other stress-related problems.

  • Makes people like you

Smiling more could actually help you socially. This is because it will make you appear to be more approachable and you’ll look more friendly. It could also improve people’s feelings towards you because they may start to mirror your smiling which could influence their feelings towards you on a subconscious level.

Related Questions

What does a forced smile mean? If someone gives you a forced smile where they don’t pull back at the mouth and the eyes then it would suggest that they have some negative feelings. They could be feigning interest in the conversation to be polite or they might be holding back from telling you something that they disagree with.

What does a fake smile mean? A fake smile could mean that they are thinking of leaving but they don’t want to offend you or they might be restraining from telling you something.

If you want to learn more about body language, a book I would recommend would be The Definitive Book of Body Language (on Amazon). It shows you how to interpret body language and understand people's true intentions.

Author

I created and currently manage Body Language Central, one of the premier sources for body language-related knowledge. Body language plays a key role in our daily lives. I hope that my website can help condense the wide amount of body language information available and allow you to make full use of it in your daily life. You can read more about me and my website here.