Mid Week Musings


We all know the difference between a genuine smile and a fake smile. A fake smile, it is said, ‘doesn’t reach the eyes’. But did you know that there is an actual scientific term for authentic smiles? They are called ‘Duchenne smiles’, named after Guillame Duchenne, a 19th-century Neurologist who mapped the muscles of the human body, including the muscles that control facial expression.

(Inauthentic smiles, incidentally, are called ‘Pan-American smiles’, after the flight attendants in television ads for the now-extinct airline.) 

A Duchenne smile is the one that reaches your eyes, making the corners wrinkle up (like crows’ feet). For the more scientifically inclined, a Duchenne smile is produced by the joint action of two facial muscles. — The zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth while the orbicularis oculi raises your cheeks, causing the subsequent laugh lines at the outside corners of your eyes. (Stand in front of a mirror and see for yourself!)

Amazingly, several longitudinal studies (that is, studies conducted over a period of many years) have shown that those who are in the habit of smiling the Duchenne smile are actually happier, handle problems better and live longer than those who don’t. Here are just a few examples:

Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker of the University of California at Berkeley, studied 141 senior-class photos from the 1960 yearbook at Mills College. All but three of the women were smiling in these photos, and about half of the smilers were ‘Duchenne smilers.’ All the women were contacted at ages 27, 43 and 52 and asked about their life satisfaction. Astonishingly, the women with the Duchenne smiles had experienced much more happiness and well-being than the others!

In 2012, a University of Kansas psychologist, Tara L. Kraft, gave study participants two sets of stressful tasks. One group was instructed to maintain smiles throughout the experiment’s stressful phases. They were even given chopsticks to hold in their teeth to simulate smile-like muscle responses. The researchers found that heart rates among the smiling group stayed the lowest during stress recovery, with the calmest hearts being participants who had Duchenne smiles.

A 2019 study by a team of researchers led by Dr. Liza Zardo measured the impact of Duchenne smiling among young people who felt ostracized socially, and found that the Duchenne smilers “spontaneously regulated their emotional experience” during difficult social encounters and survived them better than the non-smilers.
The late Zen master and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, was quite right when he said, “Your joy can be the source of your smile, but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy.”

So go ahead and smile … authentically!

Have a great week!

Team Anahat


Mid Week Musings


The Hubble Space Telescope is a large, space-based observatory which has revolutionized astronomy since its deployment in space in April 1990. Because it is located far above rain clouds, light pollution, and atmospheric distortions, the Hubble telescope provides crystal-clear views of the universe.

According to nasa.gov, Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations over the course of its 32 year-existence. Over 19,000 peer-reviewed science papers have been published on its discoveries, and every current astronomy textbook includes its contributions. In short, Hubble has exponentially increased astronomers’ knowledge and understanding of the cosmos.

But the space telescope began its journey in the worst way possible. After 15 years of work that cost taxpayers $1.7 billion, NASA launched Hubble with a ‘spherically aberrated mirror’ (or, in layman’s terms, a faulty lens)! It was an avoidable mistake that caused massive embarrassment to the US space programme. And although engineers and astronauts finally managed to install the right mirrors on the telescope, the damage to NASA’s reputation was done. 

A Failure Review Board conducted a long investigation and finally told Congress that the Hubble fiasco was ‘a leadership and human relations failure!’ Charles J. Pellerin, a senior astrophysicist who was part of the Hubble programme writes:

“Hubble attracted first-rate technical minds, (but) NASA managers relentlessly criticised and pressured the contractors. The contractors, operating from a place of relative powerlessness, subsequently withheld troubling information. NASA’s management of its contractor had been so hostile that the contractor, tired of the humiliation, simply stopped reporting technical problems.” 

As a result, the wrong mirrors ended up being launched into space! 

NASA’s Stephen Johnson said, “The causes of mission failure may have been technical, but the root causes and contributing factors were social and psychological. … My sense is that 80 to 95 percent of failures are ultimately due to human error and miscommunication.”

The Hubble incident is a reminder that human interactions ultimately trump technological advancement. It is important to remember in this age of increased digital interaction when there is an app for nearly everything, that it is the human factor — how well we understand and treat each other as human beings — that will determine success or failure.

Remember, people don’t care what you know till they know that you care. 

Have a great week!

Team Anahat

Mid Week Musings

Don’t Be Bitter, Be Better.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey, author of the 1990s’ bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, made a profound observation:

“The children of blame are cynicism and hopelessness. When we succumb to believing that we are victims of our circumstances and yield to the plight of fatalism, we lose hope, we lose drive, and we settle into resignation and stagnation.”

The link between blame and hopelessness isn’t always immediately obvious, but if we think about it for a bit, it becomes apparent that the former often leads to the latter.

In South America, there is a strange, deadly, and aptly-named vine called the ‘Matador’.(‘Matador’, in Spanish, literally means ‘killer’.) The vine begins its life harmlessly enough at the foot of a tree, but as it grows, it wraps itself around the tree, actually strangling it as it winds its way up. And when it finally reaches the top of the tree, it brings forth a flower, almost as though it were celebrating its kill and crowning itself victor.

The Matador vine is a sobering metaphor for the debilitating effects of blame and bitterness. It might feel good at first to blame others for our woes, but the longer we hold on to our anger and hurt, the more we will feel our hope, optimism and positiveness ebbing away.

If you are feeling particularly bleak and upset, it might be a good idea to ask yourself if you are perhaps harbouring bitterness in some part of your life, and then make a conscious choice to let go of it. As someone wisely said once, “Holding on to bitterness makes as much sense as drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die!”

It is normal and natural to feel upset and angry when we have been hurt, but we don’t need to stay that way. As human beings, we always have the freedom to choose how we will respond to what life sends our way. Don’t be bitter, be better.

Have a great week

Team Anahat