Did you know that children smile a whopping 400 times a day, while one third of adults smile just 20 times a day? We learned this and plenty more from Ron Gutman's fascinating TED talk on the power of cracking a smile. Gutman, an entrepreneur and writer, has turned his research into a new digital TED Book, Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act. We spoke to him about the meaning of smiles — both real and phony — and how smiling broadly may help us live longer. See what he had to say below.
As you researched smiling, what surprised you most?
When we're happy we smile, but the opposite is also true. The act of smiling makes you feel better. I was also surprised that we're evolutionarily engineered to mimic smiles, so they really are contagious. It's very difficult to frown when you're looking at someone who's smiling. Walk into a business meeting and smile, and see what happens.
What about fake smiles?
People may think they're good at faking smiles, but human beings are even better at identifying them. There's no real hallmark of fake smiles, but if you mimic someone's smile you'll be able to tell if it's real or not.
Are certain smiles more attractive than others?
It's interesting; in America we tend to show our upper teeth when we smile, while in Great Britain the cultural norm is to show your lower teeth. But no, there's no one smile that's universally the most attractive. However, big beaming smiles are associated with good health and even a higher quality of life.
So there are health benefits to smiling?
This blew my mind. One study showed a positive correlation between beaming smiles and the quality of marriage. Another showed that baseball players who smiled big on trading cards lived an average of almost 80 years, while those who didn't smile lived 72.9 years. The size of your smile can say a lot about your overall wellbeing.