This article is the second in a series of seven meditative pieces I am working through related to the annual reflexive exercise I recently completed, the #7MagicWords Challenge. In my first piece, Take this One Step toward Endless Opportunity, I describe the context for what I hope to do in this series. That work traced my connection with Learning as an empowering action, one that actually worships change. More specifically, the change that happens to ourselves when we learn more about nearly anything.
The Power of Smiling
Wonder why it is smile? Let's start with this. When was the last time you intentionally thought about what it means to smile? How it makes you feel to smile? Even how you engage with others when they smile?
Think what happens when you smile — you feel differently. Smiling is a physical action that seems to have an emotional connection.
Let’s try something. Please close your eyes and imagine a tiny little puppy, how it jumps and frolics and wags its little tail, taking in the wonders of the new world around it while it is near bursting with energy and joy.
Smiling, aren’t you?
Let’s try another one. Have you ever walked into a bakery just as the baker was taking out freshly-made bread? Perhaps you have made bread yourself and remember your own experience of taking it out of the oven? I bet you leaned near it and breathed in, possibly while closing your eyes to entirely focus on its aroma and the effect it had on you.
Smiling again, I imagine.
How about one more? Think back to a time when you visited the seashore. Do you remember that salty smell wafting into your nose, with perhaps the sound of waves onto the beach or gulls mewing overhead, celebrating the wonders of the earth? Maybe the softness of the colored sand lightly moved between your toes, all while you glimpsed how big the world around us is.
I bet you are smiling at the memory.
When we smile, it seems to do something to us, somehow transporting us in our connection with a pleasant experience in either the present or the past. In this way, we are left wondering at things beyond us that connect us in some way with the broader world. A better world. In many ways to a world where we would prefer to live than the one in which we find ourselves at this current moment.
Research on Smiling
In a well-cited 2007 research study by Paula M. Niedenthal, Embodying Emotion, embodied cognition was explored. The research acknowledged that the reciprocal relationship between the bodily expressions of emotion. In short, it identified scientific evidence to support the adage, "When You're Smiling, The Whole World Smiles with You." Smiling can certainly happen when we are alone, yet it somehow changes the mood when we smile while being around others. In the process, it positively shifts and balances our internal selves.
Does this surprise anybody? When we encounter people who are smiling, it is contagious! It is hard to be miserable when people around us are smiling. Somehow, that helps us to feel better. The only change is within us, and this is often a change for the better.
It is the same when we are trying to comfort friends or little children who are unhappy for some reason. We try to make them smile, and in that way, to ultimately laugh.
Smiling so often happens without our conscious awareness, but what happens if we choose to be more intentional about it? If there is evidence to support the physical and emotional benefits of smiling, then why not do it more often? It is challenging to be stressed or miserable when we are smiling. Just try it!
3 Ways Smiling can Change Your Day
Let's take this into practice. Earlier I asked you to think back to individuals or periods in your life, and you were likely smiling at the end. So, how about taking three simple activities forward into your day and trying them out?
1. Smile at yourself in the mirror in the morning.
When you get up tomorrow morning, look at yourself in the mirror and smile. Not pretend smile or doing while your eyes are still filled with sleep, but a real example of smiling. Look at yourself and smile. Be kind, forgiving, and encouraging to yourself. After all, life is hard enough, and you deserve it. Smile at yourself in an acknowledgment that today is a new day, and with it comes new opportunities that we can build upon in the future. Today will be a better day than yesterday, for today is filled with opportunity while yesterday is past.
I bet you may already be smiling just thinking about this!
2. Be the first to smile at your boss or colleagues the next time you meet.
When you greet your professional associates at the very next time you gather, whether in person or via videoconferencing, be the first to smile with some form of greeting. Perhaps you already do, and it is the way you ordinarily meet, though I suppose it may not be for some others of you. Work is work, though even the most challenging work can be lightened when we approach it, acknowledging the humanness of those engaged within it. When you smile at them, smile with your smile that connects to your face, and not just your lips that betray an indifference in your eyes.
Who knows, it may just set a positive tone in your next endeavor that it works out well. If smiling is contagious, then isn't it better to have your boss and colleagues smiling back at you?
3. Smile at something in nature
It doesn't matter if it is a bird at the birdfeeder, a cloud formation far up in the sky, a meandering river cutting across the countryside, or a wooden table imported from afar. Smile how it goes about its day if it is animate or how it is stable and supportive if inanimate. Either way, nature has its way of persisting and finding a way, and our smile is a way of joining with it and being part of one vast reality. This is one where we are not only a part but an active participant in life itself. This smile you bring to it is like a prayer or blessing you send out into the world, even if you do not consciously say anything.
How about trying these three simple steps tomorrow, or even today, smiling at yourself, others, and nature, and seeing the result? This is one thing we can try that sends goodness into the world and brings back to us so many benefits.
Who knows, the positive energy you give off through your smile may be exactly what those around you most need, and isn't that a good thing to pass on?