60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Self-improvement

How do you boost your confidence? Americans share their opinions in the December edition of the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll for December 2014. We wish everyone a most happy and healthy holiday season. As January 1 approaches and you start to think about what your New Year's resolutions will be, what better and more timely topic could we focus on than self-improvement? Since before recorded history, man has been evolving and improving. The ancient philosophers taught people how to improve themselves through storytelling, first hand experiences and morality tales. The first great self-help book in America (with apologies to the Pilgrims) was probably "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" where he gave an account of how through hard work, education and perseverance he was able to accomplish so much. He could never have imagined how helping people to improve themselves would turn into a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. The three pillars of the self-improvement movement are: mind, body and spirit. Which one of these aspects of yourself needs the most improvement? And while we're at it, if you could write a letter to your younger self with just one piece of advice, which one would you most likely share? We look forward to your answers. And now the results...

Looking back

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If they could share one piece of advice with their younger self, 55 percent of Americans would tell themselves to stop worrying, it's all going to work out. Eighteen percent would say, life's not fair, get used to it. Thirteen percent would warn themselves "don't do it!" -- whatever "it" is -- and 10 percent would say, "It doesn't get much better, so live it up." "CBS This Morning" has a wonderful series called "Note to Self" where a wide variety of famous and accomplished people do just that, write a note to their younger selves. It is an opportunity to share the wisdom they have gained from their experiences to help others. Try it, You may be surprised at what comes out.

Pillars of self-improvement

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Mind, body and spirit (soul) are considered by many to be the three pillars of self-improvement, so which one needs the most attention? Forty-seven percent of Americans say it is their body, 29 percent said it is their mind and 20 percent said it is their soul. It is not surprising that more people over the age of 30 (50 percent) chose their body while more people under 30 (40 percent) chose their mind. We are generally more fit when we are younger and wiser when we are older. Age made no difference to the one out five Americans who felt their soul needed the most improvement. Some aspects of ourselves transcend age.

Inspiration for improvement

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Thirty-five percent would go first to a house of worship to improve themselves and 34 percent would go to a gym. And if you count going to a bookstore (14 percent), the Internet (eight percent) and a psychiatrist (eight percent) as all related to improving the mind, that adds up to 30 percent which is pretty close to the other two. It shows that there is a healthy demand for improvement in all aspects of our lives.

Empowering yourself

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For Americans, the quickest way to boost their self-confidence would be to talk to a good friend (40 percent), followed by meditation or prayer (38 percent), a workout (17 percent) or having a drink (four percent). Talking to a good friend is often just what the doctor ordered to make us feel better about ourselves and so is talking to God or connecting to a higher power through meditation. A workout can also be beneficial in making us feel good but most Americans know drinking is not the answer.

Inspiring good

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Six out of 10 Americans think they would accomplish more good in the world by improving themselves and 38 percent said by improving someone else. It is said that charity begins at home. Greg Johnson has a very good song that says, "First you save yourself, then you save the world." It's a way of saying that once your own house is in order, you will be better equipped to help others and by extension the world and it appears that a solid majority of Americans agree.

New tricks

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If they were given unlimited time and resources, 30 percent of Americans would choose to master a foreign language followed by cooking 24 percent, a musical instrument 23 percent, painting 10 percent, golf eight percent and the Kama Sutra three percent. This is a nice fantasy question and it's not surprising that many Americans would choose to become bilingual, musically gifted or great cooks. For most Americans however, becoming a master of painting, golf or Kama Sutra is a more difficult task. That said, with unlimited time and resources at your disposal you might have a lot of fun trying.

Make war, not love

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Thirty percent of Americans think that fighting in a war would be the best excuse for using performance-enhancing drugs. Next in order were studying for school 16 percent, having sex 13 percent, playing sports 10 percent and performing stand-up comedy six percent. Another 22 percent said none of the choices was excusable. They say that all is fair in love and war and maybe you can add studying for school to that list too, but Americans are less forgiving to athletes and comedians who aren't playing it straight.

Under the knife

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Seven out of 10 Americans feel that having cosmetic surgery is fine if it makes you feel better about yourself but one in four Americans feel that it is horrid and no one ever really looks better. We are used to hearing about people having procedures or "work done" and most of us are understanding of people desiring a better appearance. Those making over 100,000 dollars per year are more likely to think it's fine (82 percent) than those making less than 50,000 dollars (67 percent).

Showing your age

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Here's a head scratcher, from the previous question where 70 percent were fine with cosmetic surgery in general, now 77 percent say that successful actors should not have it and should allow themselves to age naturally. That's quite a disparity. Now when it comes to their favorite actors only 19 percent said go ahead and have cosmetic surgery if it will prolong your career. It can only be deduced that people are attached to their favorite actors and want them to grow old along with them. Another possibility is that seeing some of the worst-case examples of plastic surgery gone wrong, people don't want their favorite stars to take the risk.

"You can never be too rich or too thin"

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Seventy-two percent of Americans disagree with The Duchess of Windsor's famous quote that "you can't be too rich or too thin." In the era in which she said it there was less resentment among Americans of the one percent and little or no knowledge of anorexia or bulimia, which is an increasing problem in some societies. Despite an increase in income inequality and consciousness as it relates to eating disorders, 26 percent of Americans are still in agreement with the social climbing American divorcee Wallace Simpson who caused the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936.

Blemish of choice

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Twenty-eight percent would most like to have Kate Bosworth's different colored eyes, followed by 27 percent for Marilyn Monroe's beauty mark, 10 percent liked Michael Strahan's gapped-tooth smile and just four percent voiced support for Hugh Grant's upper crust stutter.


This poll was conducted by telephone from October 8-12, 2014 among 1,004 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. The error for other subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Poll.

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