I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, my mind struggling to process the hour of bad news I had just watched. At a loss, I wondered what would happen if I just forced myself to smile. I imagine if anyone had seen me, it would have looked quite ridiculous, as I stared at the ceiling trying to hold a forced smile as long as I could.
The first five seconds were legitimately challenging, perhaps evidence that these muscles had atrophied a bit during these last several months. Eventually, as I moved past fifteen, twenty and then thirty seconds, I felt invigorated and happy. As good an example of “fake it until you make it” as I’ve experienced.
This short silly exercise buoyed my spirits as I began to think of all the things, past, present and future that I still have to smile about.
There are many causes for worry and concern. We all have more burdens to bear these days. Acknowledging that, for others, this extra weight, is on top of challenges that make my own insignificant in comparison.
I think the idea of smiling entered my consciousness through a song I’ve heard repeatedly over the last week — Mother’s Smile by Keelan Donovan. This beautifully simple and poignant song opens with the following lyrics:
My mother’s smile
Looks the same as it did when I was a child
It’ll stay right here with me for a while
It speaks to the enduring warmth of a smile given, remembered and missed.
It takes between 10-12 muscles to smile, depending on how wide you make it. Smiling requires more muscle activity and strength than frowning. Which if you think about it sounds about right.
The good news is that in normal times, we smile more. Meaning that those muscles grow stronger over time.
It is also worth noting that smiling is contagious. When you smile at someone, it activates the reward center in their brain, causing them in turn to smile as well.
Today, our smiles are hidden both by how we feel and the masks we need to wear. But they are still there if we look closely enough.
Recently, as I dropped my youngest child off at her socially distanced farm camp, I could see that all twelve of her facial muscles were working hard to create a smile that extended well beyond the contours of her mask. The strength of this smile created one of equal magnitude that I returned. The glow of which I carried with me as I drove away and now write this post.
Exercise your smile today. In private, see how long you can hold one and how that makes you feel. Then in public, flash one to someone else, and imagine how good that makes them feel too.