If there's JUST. ONE. THING. you do for yourself and your wellness and your health and happiness today, let it be this: SMILE!
But not the way everyone else is telling you to smile. THIS will change your life...I'm not kidding. I've been doing it for a few weeks now (full confession. Enjoy this mental picture as I explain. You're welcome.)
I'm not going to tell you to smile at strangers, or even at your partner, spouse, kid, mom, boss, coworkers. Try this first. You're gonna love it.
Quick back story: I had been thinking about the new year and my values and desires, and realized it had been a super long time since I had a face-hurting belly laugh with a good friend. Like, the kind where you are crying, and your cheeks are in PAIN because it's just THAT funny and there's so much joy and your mouth won't close because...laughter! I mean, I have a lovely, happy life, and my daughter brings me great joy...
I want my face to LIGHT UP. And I want that joy to fill my entire being and spread to others, and fill my life, so I feel radiantly happy and bring joy to others, and...I'm getting ahead of myself. Because every time I smile for a photo, it looks so awkward. Some might disagree, but it's been a long time since I looked at a picture of myself and saw real, authentic, pure joy lighting up my face. There have been many years with fewer smiles than I'd like. I miss having a hilarious friend close by who will make me pee my pants and throw my head back in full abandon. (Jump on board, if you want this to be you!!).
And I started thinking. It's kinda like faith. That thing where you have to believe it before you see it, instead of waiting around for it to show up? Or fake it 'til you make it...where you step into the roll you want to play...and truly believe it can and will happen, and you go through the motions, trusting, breathing, showing up...until reality catches up with you and suddenly, there you are...exactly where you were pretending to be...only, it's REAL.
Smiling. This is what it's about. I could BE that hilarious friend to someone else. Or...I can just start smiling all the time and crack myself up.
Remember that fact you heard somewhere a while back that says "it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown," blah blah, so we should all be happy and it should be easy to smile, etc., etc."? Well. It's been ingrained in my head, but it finally occurred to me: it also might take fewer muscles to run than to climb a mountain (don't quote me on that) but if your running muscles aren't warmed up and PRACTICED...it doesn't matter how many muscles it takes. Your muscles are out of shape!!
Here's what I'm saying: Practice smiling. I'm not kidding. Don't start smiling at strangers until you're ready. There are so. many. articles. about how smiling leads to joy. And I just keep thinking about that TED talk where your body language informs your mood and striking a Wonder Woman pose just before an interview makes you A) feel like a badass and B) more likely to get the job!
Soooo...if you decided you wanted to be a runner would you just dive in and run a marathon? Nah. You'd likely hurt yourself and to really find your flow, you gotta practice.
Here's what to do: Go in a room with a mirror. CLOSE THE DOOR. Put on some chapstick. You're gonna need it. Open your mouth as wide as you can! Make weird open-mouth faces and stick out your tongue. FACE EXERCISES. Make as many weird expressions as you can. WARM IT UP, mama. Stretch those lips. Open that mouth. Open those eyes super wide. Purse the lips. Smile so the cheekbones shine...
Strike a pose. (Or just angle your head a bit, like a sultry celebrity). Open your mouth into a full-on toothy smile, with your lips wide and your cheeks looking MWAH. Hold it. Hold it. HOLD IT.....in about 30 seconds, or a minute or 2 minutes...your face will start to hurt. Reminiscent of that amazing time your friend in high school did or said that stupid thing you couldn't even BELIEVE and you couldn't stop laughing. And you are NOT PERMITTED to think negative things about yourself. Just look at yourself and see how ridiculous the whole thing is...and maybe the smile will start to sustain itself. And if not...if it just hurts, but you don't feel the joy...trust the process.
Keep holding, take a rest, and then do it again! If you are unable to do this without rolling your eyes at yourself, do it on the toilet! (No mirror!) In fact, do it multiple times of day, whenever you're alone so no one will see you...do it in the bathroom, in the car, in bed after you turn out the lights. I started doing it while meditating. Nursing my baby. Making tea. Staring at a computer screen, when I could feel my face starting to get pinched. This is exercise for your face and for your smile. But it's FUN (because it's ridiculous). It's about putting your facial muscles into a position of laughter and happiness so that when situations arise that might call for laughter or happiness...you ease right into that smile, because your face has been there before...lots of times.
Here's the big secret. Smiling can lead to joy, and joy changes everything. I'm totally not kidding – my skin is clearing up and I feel so much happier, after just a few weeks. It could also be some of the other wellness practices I'm following, but I really, truly, feel so much more joyful and happy, and my face is getting some muscle memory. It's easier to smile and laugh than it used to be. The corners of my mouth slide open just a bit easier than they used to. It's all about regular practice. Until it becomes habit.
Start smiling when there is nothing to smile about. And you will find yourself laughing more.
Pretty soon, you won't have to think about forcing a smile for strangers or your boss...it will just effortlessly slip onto your well-practiced, warmed up face ;)