I am living with cats for the first time in 24 years. There are three of them, all related, and less than a year old. What I’m aware of constantly these days is how much more often I find myself smiling. I’m kind of a “smiley” person to begin with, so it’s not new territory to me but—even with that familiarity—I’m surprised by how much moreof the time I seem to find myself smiling.
This got me to thinking about the research that’s been done around smiling. Behavioral psychologist Sarah Stevenson says, “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.” In a Psychology Today article, Ronald Riggio reports that smiling is contagious and has a positive effect not only on you but on the people around you. Here’s a link to his article:
In my workshops, I often talk about a practice I’ve done every morning for years now and I am committed to it because of the impact it has on how I move into a new day. No matter how I feel when I wake up, as soon as my feet touch the floor, before I actually stand up, I take a moment to smile. Sometimes it’s a mechanical and challenging process, but it always, always, shifts my inner state and allows me to greet the day with a positive state of mind. This doesn’t mean that I overlook whatever else I might be feeling, or try to push away feelings that need my attention. Instead, it’s a moment that I take to set a deeper tone for the day, where there is room for sadness, anger, or whatever within a context of greeting the day with a smile.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to play with your relationship with smiling and to notice what happens when you consciously decide to smile as a way to shift your body-mind state into something more comfortable. For example, notice what happens if you greet the day with a smile compared to how you feel when you get up without this practice. And, play with what happens when you are out and about and wear a smile on your face as you move through the world. I notice that when I walk across Central Park each morning, on the mornings I’m smiling, or have a hint of a smile on my face, people tend to respond with a smile or a spontaneous hello.
Also notice what happens when you’re in a down mood, sad, or otherwise disgruntled or unhappy and try on a smile as a companion or friend rather than as a demand to be in a mood that isn’t what you are feeling. It’s just an experiment, so if it doesn’t feel good to you, let it go. What’s interesting is that smiling can become a companion along the way that you can turn to when you need or want to shift your biology. Smiling floods the brain with “feel-good hormones”, so it’s a resource you might want to get to know more intimately.
As with all these practices, there’s no right or wrong way to do this one. It’s an invitation to play with something that you might find useful and that may have a positive impact on the quality of your internal experience. Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat on the head any judgments about this that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with or about them.