“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” ~ Phyllis Diller
I’m saying it out loud and before witnesses… I’ve been a little cranky lately. My husband might use another word to describe my preoccupation with work and short fuse with just about everything else, but the calm I seek through yoga does not always carry me through to the end of the day. Interruptions and stumbling blocks sometimes feel too closely spaced and cumbersome to navigate as the responsibilities of work are juggled with the needs and wants of daily living. I know my sense of drowning in duty-filled water is not unique. Most of us have felt the weight of obligations stampede through our garden of order, leaving us scant time to rebuild and replant, let alone the luxury of stopping to smell the flowers. So, I’ve been working on a solution to my self-imposed conundrum. I practice smiling.
I remember when I was a young girl, I would often hear adults tell me to smile. What I imagined was a thoughtful look or the set jaw of concentration must have looked more like the scowl of jejune behavior. Offended as I was by the suggestion that I was not happy or lacking in joviality, I’d pinch my lips and slide my cheeks toward my eyes as if to say, “good enough for you?” But now that I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, I have come to understand the power behind a genuine smile.
Lately I’ve been making it a point to smile more. When I walk my dogs in the morning, I smile at the people I meet. At the grocery store, I smile at my fellow shoppers. I have even, on occasion, sent a nodding grin to fellow drivers at an intersection. And what do I get? Boomerang smiles.
Of course, once in a while, someone will look over their shoulder to see who I’m smiling at, then look back at me with a confused blink. But more often than not, a pleasant expression is matched by the return of a soft smile.
There are times when I don’t want to smile; when I’m focused on a task or I’m running late for an appointment. When I get bad news or the puppy chews a hole in the rug, it’s hard to drum up the energy to switch gears completely and melt the grimace of frustration into velvety pleasantness, but the point is that I’m becoming more aware of the crankiness that wrinkles my cheeks and I’m exploring the effects of tempering it with positivity.
The effects of smiling can reach deeper than the lines in our face or the opportunity to see a happy expression returned to us. A mindful smile can lower the heart rate and reduce stress and might even signal to the brain the release of such positive chemicals as dopamine and serotonin. Pain tolerance can increase when endorphins are triggered by a genuinely happy expression.
A smile is welcoming, comforting, accepting and assuring to the receiver, and when authentically expressed, your smile could be the best moment in someone else’s day.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
What if you smiled, right now, to yourself? Might you feel your jaw go slack and your temples soften? As the smile remains on your face, does it start to feel more genuine as it travels beyond your mouth and your eyes and flows deep into our body? Can you just smile to yourself and be the beneficiary of your own gesture of happiness? And when you are filled up with the joyful energy of a simple realignment of the muscles in your face, throw your curve to another and for a moment, you’ll set everything straight.