The power of a smile

Photo by Capturing the human heart. on Unsplash

Photo by Capturing the human heart on Unsplash

One smile can change your experience in a moment.

We all have in mind some people who are naturally smiling, and we all know that it is pleasant. It makes us feel safe, included, and overall good. I talk about real smiles of course, not the fake ones.

A lot of us though, myself included, are often not smiling, mainly because we are in our head, with so many things in mind, because we are often in a fight or flight mode, being scared to be judged, to be taken advantage of, needing to look good, to not fail, and without realizing it, we just lose our ability to smile. Of course, when having a good time with friends, colleagues, family, we are smiling and even laughing. But how often is it in our daily activities?  I realized this during one of my meditations which ends with smiling. The first time I did it felt really awkward, I was definitely not comfortable although I was alone…You don’t believe me? Try to smile right now … OK, a little bit more now … come on you can do better! If you have the possibility to watch your face in a mirror, I bet you’re not even half way to your bigger smile. Let’s try a full deep smile…There we go 😊.

The good news is we can actually get better at smiling by practicing, like any other skill. And the benefits are real, for others but also for the one smiling. There is a growing body of research showing the benefits of smiling for our health but I want to focus on one thing here: there is a direct correlation between our smiling and our feelings. If you take some time to close your eyes and think of something pleasant, a positive experience, you might catch yourself naturally smiling. And the opposite is true. When you smile, your body reacts to it. When going under the cold shower after my workouts, I’ll smile and I can tell you it makes a huge difference in how I react to the cold temperature. It brings a feeling of appreciation to something that is naturally not pleasant.

But the better example I got is when plugging myself to a bio feedback system that I use to teach athletes (or business owners/managers) stress management techniques in order for them to stay composed and calm with a clear thinking in the face of adversity or stress. This device measures the heart rate and the goal of the techniques are to get into what is called a coherent state, different from being relaxed, where we are calm and composed inside while still alert and focused (these techniques and technology are used a lot with stressed professional in the military, the healthcare, the police and with athletes). When I am having a hard time getting in the green zone (coherent state), I reset my thinking and just smile, feeling appreciation. And I often get into the green right away. The smile is having an impact on my heart rate and my whole physiology, and I can really feel it.

What can we do with that?

When the kids get me crazy (surprising?), I sometime take a minute or 2 to isolate myself and smile, feeling the appreciation that goes with it. Smiling while being upset feels weird and awkward at first, but it really eases and accelerates the process to come back to a more neutral, calm state,  with a clearer thinking.

My invitation for you is to play with smiling: become aware of whether you are smiling or not, watch yourself in the mirror and practice, notice the impact on others (at work, in the street, at home) when you smile at them (usually, the other persons will smile too), feel what happens in your body when you genuinely smile, try to smile in unpleasant situations (it might be hard at first, you will feel your face really tensed but persevere and bring in that feeling of appreciation in the meantime) and notice what happens.

Finale note: don’t blame yourself when you don’t smile, that’s OK, you don’t have to smile all the time. The goal is to become more aware because, as I shared in a previous post, awareness leads to choice.

Get set, ready, smile!

Take care,

Evan

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