Your grandmother asks how you liked her Spam® burger. Gulp. Choosing your words carefully, you say, “I’ve never eaten anything like it! What unique texture!” Your boss asks why you’re late. Gulp. You tell him about the accident that tied up two lanes of traffic, but you conveniently leave out the fact that you also overslept.
Oh, the little white lies we tell. If we’re honest, most of us have undoubtedly stretched the truth at times. Call it exaggeration or fibbing, but leading deception expert Pamela Meyer concludes that the average person lies between 10 and 200 times every day. White lies are the seemingly harmless “untruths” we offer to minimize someone’s disappointment or anger, avoid embarrassment or forego an unpleasant outcome. But lies of any degree can affect more than your reputation, your career and your relationships—they can mess with your brain, alter your health and decrease your longevity. Really? Yes really.
“I don’t think that dress makes you look fat.”
When you tell the truth, you honestly state or recall something, but lying takes extra effort because you have to distort the facts and then convince others of your story. Lying increases anxiety and releases stress hormones, which increase heart rate and blood pressure. Stress from telling even little lies also lowers the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body, and can contribute to other medical conditions including depression, obesity and cancer. Over time, the cumulative effect of lies and stress can even shorten your life.
Psychology professor Anita Kelly at the University of Notre Dame tracked the effects of lying on the health of 110 adults for 10 weeks. Participants who were instructed to avoid lying at all costs reported improvements in their relationships, as well as fewer problems with tension, insomnia, backaches, headaches and sore throats than participants who were given permission to stretch the truth as needed.
“I’m fine. No, really.”
In research published in Psychology Today, 85 percent of restaurant diners admitted to white lies when asked about their food and dining experience. (“How is the blackened trout?” “Fine, just fine.”) Even omitting the truth over something as “trivial” as a meal can strain—and even shrink!— your brain. Medical researchers have discovered that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is most susceptible to stress and actually contracts when the body is tense and anxious. Perhaps we’d all do better by following mindful Albert Einstein who advised, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
“The check’s in the mail.”
As easy as it is to fudge the truth now and then, it’s important to tell the truth for the health of our relationships, bodies and brains.
So the next time you hear: Do these pants make my butt look fat? Do you like my new haircut? Just how many cookies did you eat? Gulp. Go ahead. Fess up. Your brain and body will thank you.