What's A Kinder Way To Frame Success?

Nov 1, 2013
Originally published on June 9, 2017 8:42 am

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode Success.

About Alain De Botton's TEDTalk

Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.

About Alain De Botton

Alain de Botton's writing has been described as "philosophy of everyday life." He is the author of several books, including How Proust Can Change Your Life and most recently, Art As Therapy.

In 2008, de Botton started The School of Life in London, a social enterprise determined to make learning and therapy relevant in today's uptight culture.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


OK, so I'm thinking grit. Great, but that's going to take some time, right? So how about a shortcut to success, like something you can do now. Well, there happens to be one and there is actually research to back this all up. Here's Ron Gutman's foolproof method from his TED Talk.


RON GUTMAN: I started my journey in California with a UC Berkeley 30-year longitudinal study that examined the photos of students in an old yearbook, and tried to measure their success and well-being throughout their life. By measuring their student smiles, researchers were able to predict how fulfilling and long-lasting a subject's marriage will be, how well she would score in standardized tests of well-being, and how inspiring she would be to others. Another aha moment came from a 2010 Wayne State University research project that looked into pre-1950s baseball cards of major league players. The researchers found that the span of a player's smile could actually predict the span of his life. Players who didn't smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, where players with beaming smiles lived an average of almost 80 years. A recent study at Uppsala University in Sweden found that it's very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles. You ask why? Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and it suppresses the control we usually have on our facial muscles.

Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us understand whether a smile is fake or real so we can understand the emotional state of the smiler. In addition to theorizing on evolution in "The Origin of Species," Charles Darwin also wrote the facial feedback response theory. His theory states that the act of smiling itself actually makes us feel better, rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good. In his study, Darwin actually cited a French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, who used electric jolts to facial muscles to induce and stimulate smiles. Please, don't try this at home. Smiling stimulates our brain reward mechanism in a way that even chocolate - a well-regarded pleasure inducer - cannot match. British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.


GUTMAN: Wait. The same study found that smiling is as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash. That's like $25,000 a smile. It's not bad. And if that's not enough, smiling can actually make you look good in the eyes of others. A recent study at Penn State University found that when you smile, you don't only appear to be more likable and courteous, but you actually appear to be more competent. So whenever you want to look great and competent, reduce your stress, or improve your marriage, or feel as if you just had a whole stack of high quality chocolate without incurring the caloric cost, or as if you found $25,000 in a pocket of an old jacket you hadn't worn for ages, or whenever you want to tap into a superpower that will help you and everyone around you live a longer, healthier, happier life - smile.


RAZ: Ron Gutman. He wrote a book about all this, it's called "Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act." And his full talk can be found at TED.com. I've tried this, by the way, and I'm not kidding, it totally works, even when people think you look like a freak. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.