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The Power of Truth Telling: Christine Carter (Full Transcript)

Full text of sociologist Christine Carter’s talk: The Power of Truth Telling at TEDxThacherSchool conference. In this talk, she shares the surprising secret to feeling fulfilled. Especially a talk to share with teens and anyone addicted to social media.

Best quote from this talk:

We can only really be happy, truly happy when we live in total integrity with ourselves, when we’re really open and honest and transparent. And this is because we human beings need the truth like we need food.

Listen to the MP3 audio here:


Christine Carter – Sociologist

Thank you so much. It’s fun to be here.

So I was what we would now call a highly sensitive child. I was so shy and so emotional. I cried every single day at school. I would cry if I was a little bit frustrated. I would cry if I was frightened. I would definitely have cried if you looked at me funny. I cried all the time. I didn’t think about it at all; I just kind of wore my emotions on my sleeve.

Until one day in second grade, a girl named Katherine who was my friend and my neighbor informed me that I was no longer allowed to play at her house after school anymore. Because her mom didn’t want to deal with it if I started to cry.

So for the first time in my life, I started to care what other people thought of me. I was so embarrassed and so ashamed that I had been banned from a neighborhood house because I was crying all the time. That I made a commitment to myself to start hiding what I was feeling.

And that one little instant, I began what would become a long career in people-pleasing.

Now people-pleasing in my extensive personal experience is a process by which we assess what will make people think more highly of us and then we mold our behavior accordingly. It’s very subtle; it’s usually very unconscious… thing that we do to influence others or even to manipulate what they think of us.

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And the problem with people-pleasing is that it means that we’re putting out all this energy towards influencing what other people think of us rather than authentically expressing ourselves. And when we make that trade-off, we end up really out of alignment, really out of integrity with ourselves.

And that integrity thing is where we often end up in trouble in my experience.

So I’m a sociologist. I’ve studied the sociology of happiness for well over a decade now. And so as you might imagine, people are always asking me what the secret to happiness is. And it’s fun question, right? I love to answer this question. My answer has evolved quite a lot over the last ten or fifteen years.

I think 10 years ago, I would have definitely told you that the key to happiness was gratitude. Having a regular gratitude practice.

And five years ago, I probably would have added something about a spirit of generosity and kindness being key to a really happy life.

But a few years ago, I came to see that the only path to true joy is one where we don’t lie at all. Only when we don’t ever pretend to think or feel or be something that we’re not can we truly be happy.

We can only really be happy, truly happy when we live in total integrity with ourselves, when we’re really open and honest and transparent. And this is because we human beings need the truth like we need food. And we are starving for the truth.

In this age of Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram and personal brands, we are starving to tell the truth… our truth… to show the world who we really are and know that they still love us.

And yet so many of us are so concerned about what other people think of us, that we pretend all the time. We say we’re happy to be somewhere that we actually would rather not be. We fake a smile so people don’t know that we’re so anxious or so angry.

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We post something on Instagram that makes it look like we’re having a fantastic time, when actually we’re feeling kind of lonely or miserable.

We pretend all the time to bridge this gap between who we are and how we want and who we want other people to see us as.

Now the thing about this… I’m just going to give it to you straight: all of this pretending is a form of lying, right? It doesn’t… we could be pretending over something really stiny or to protect somebody else’s feelings. But it’s still a form of lying.

And lying is the most stressful thing that human beings can do to their brains or their bodies. Lie-detector test completely depends on this. A polygraph test does not detect lies; it detects the unconscious stress and fear that lying causes.

So hook me up to a polygraph test or a lie detector and it will be able to detect all kinds of changes in the electricity coming off my skin, moisture, my body temperature, my respiration, my heart rate, even the pitch of my voice will change when I am pretending. It’s as though our bodies howl when we’re pretending for us to please just stop.

Now there’s some really really good news in all of this. Research has been done where researchers instruct people not to lie so much, and the good news is that people are able to stop lying. And when they do, their physical health improves.

It’s pretty remarkable. When people stop lying and stop pretending, they report that tension goes down, they start sleeping better, they have fewer headaches, they have fewer sore throats. This is pretty remarkable. Their relationships improve and they feel less anxiety overall.

Now I learned the consequences of lying and pretending all the time, all this increased stress and impaired relationships, the hard way.

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Really early in my life, I tuned my attention to what other people expected of me, what other people wanted me to be. And I met their expectations with flying colors. I got straight A’s; I went to an Ivy League college. I got a prestigious job in marketing where I worked 12-hour days at a job that I actually did – I could do pretty well in just six hours, right?

So why did I work so long? Well, because other people expected me to, and I was really good at meeting other people’s expectations. But I was pretty stressed out all the time. I was diagnosed with the generalized anxiety disorder and prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

So even though I was very successful by many measures and also very happy by many measures, I was really struggling to know who I was and what I wanted and how to live my life from that place. I was really suffering from the stress and anxiety that people-pleasing causes.

Now I’m going to stop myself for a second, because I have reverted to a former people-pleasing behavior for this presentation. Maybe you can guess slide’s going to give you a little clue. And it is these really cute blue shoes that I’m wearing.

High heels are a full-on people-pleasing kind of behavior. Now I really actually do like these shoes; they are my favorite color. You could kind of make an argument that there’s some authentic self-expression there in that.

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