Can You Tell Lifelong Happiness Just From a Picture?

You can tell a lot from a smile. Do you have a genuine smile? There are specific markers of a real smile. This will get you opening up your yearbook and examining your own picture.

Is this person genuinely happy?
Is this person genuinely happy?
In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman (or as I have started calling him, “Uncle Marty”) describes a study in which trained psychologists attempted to predict whether people would lead happy lives just by looking at their yearbook photo. Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker studied the photographs of 141 women graduating from Mills College in 1960, specifically looking at their smile. A man named Guillaume Duchenne discovered specific markers of a genuine smile – namely the corners of the mouth turn up and the corners of the eyes crinkle – like crow’s feet. It turns out that the muscles that control these movements are difficult to control voluntarily and therefore are a good indicator of genuineness. They referred to the women with the less genuine smile as the “Pan American smile” – after stewards of the now-defunct airline. Do you suppose if they were truly happy and sporting the Duchenne smile that the airline would still be around? But, I digress. 30 years after the yearbook pictures were snapped, Keltner and Harker found that, indeed, the graduates sporting the Duchenne smile were statistically happier, reporting more personal well-being than the Pan-American smilers. Now, this of course does not mean if you were not genuinely smiling for your yearbook photo that you are doomed to a life of despair. On the contrary! It’s never too late! Studies have shown that your body has a biological reaction when you smile – Duchenne or even the “why do I have to pose for this picture” fake smile. Your body does not know the difference and so it releases chemicals into the pleasure center of your brain. So, smile more! It feels good to you and you will often find that people are friendlier and may even smile back. Or if nothing else, we can take our cues from Ziggy, “Smile! People will wonder what you’re up to.” ~Frank

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