What Your Smile Says About You

by Matt Sitman

Kevin Corcoran reviews Christopher Peterson’s Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology, noting these insights into happiness:

Peterson references a study of 114 photographs from a late 1950s women’s-college yearbook. Researchers studied the faces of the women pictured. All but a few were smiling, but of those who were smiling, only some showed evidence of what is called a “Duchenne” smile (named after Guillaume Duchenne, a French physician who discovered that smiles indicative of joy and happiness engage muscles around the eyes as well as those around the corners of the mouth; fake or forced smiles do not produce crinkles around your eyes like involuntary or Duchenne smiles do). Decades after the yearbook photos, researchers could predict which of the women were married and, of those, which were satisfied with their marriage. And yes, you guessed it: those who were both married and happy wore a Duchenne smile in their yearbook picture. Moreover, another study, this time of photographs of major league baseball players from the 1952 season, showed that those players who did not smile at all lived, on average, 72 years. Those who showed evidence of Duchenne smiles lived, on average, 80 years. Now, the claim is not that Duchenne smiling causes you to live longer. The claim is that a genuine Duchenne smile is an indicator of happiness and, apparently, longevity.