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I've seen many times in my life how people occasionally smile when trying to remain calm under huge stress regarding natural disasters, deaths, big losses, etc. It happened to me also.
Everything I find about it is just tips on how to make yourself happy by forcing a smile, but I doubt people was smiling intentionally - it was coming out naturally.
Was there any research on it? Is it a thing?

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In research (Ansfield, 2007)

Smiling when distressed was most prevalent in conditions in which participants reported the greatest emotional distress. Specifically, while viewing distressing videos, men reported experiencing greater overall distress and also smiled more than women, especially in social conditions and while viewing intensely (as opposed to moderately) distressing stimuli. In general, smiling was related to more negative affect while viewing distressing videos but to more positive affect after viewing such stimuli.

As for reasons why this happens, that is down to opinion. As men are more inclined to smile in inappropriate situations such as these, one possible reason is the result of the gendered stereotype that men and boys don't cry. A criminology study was put together on this topic (Goodey, 1997).

[T]he image of the ‘fearless’ male, from childhood onwards, is not a helpful one.

and causes issues when men and boys become stressed and/or depressed and need therapy (Branney & White, 2008).

References

Ansfield, M. E. (2007). Smiling when distressed: When a smile is a frown turned upside down. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(6), 763-775. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167206297398

Branney, P., & White, A. (2008). Big boys don't cry: Depression and men. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 14(4), 256-262. https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.bp.106.003467

Goodey, J. (1997). Boys don't cry: Masculinities, fear of crime and fearlessness. The British Journal of Criminology, 37(3), 401-418. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjc.a014177

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