Smile On

Never let your face drop. Keep it constantly alive. The audience should never see you bored.

This was the message I heard for thirteen years. Whether I was mid-piroute or leaping through the air, my smile always had to be there too.

Three years after leaving the dance world behind, I stood up in front of a public speaking class to give my first speech. After I finished, all the teacher said was “Who are you?! This can’t be the same person who sat in her seat, quiet and reserved every day until now. Your face lit up!”

Growing up as a dancer affected me in multiple ways, but one of the strongest results is the subconscious effect it took on my facial expressions. It’s possible they were part of me before I began to dance, but when you start something at the age of 3 it is hard to distinguish what came first.

I mean I guess that looks like a happy kid… :)

I’ve had everyone from a coworker to a Jamba Juice employee tell me that I am one of the happiest people they’ve ever seen. I scoff at this.

Honestly, I don’t consider myself an extremely happy person. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for years, so the thoughts storming through my brain are often not the happiest. I can be strongly pessimistic, angry, judgmental, and fearful. I worry more than most people. I have wounds and scars like everyone else.

But when I smile, it is rarely insincere. Even with all of those dark emotions, my ability to keep smiling is what helps me remain positive. I was trained as a dancer to never lose face, and although that led to some negative repercussions of hiding my emotions, it also taught me how to find joy despite moments of pain or fear.

There is plenty of research to back up the benefits of smiling.

In a 2011 study at the Face Research Laboratory of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, subjects were asked to rate smiling and attractiveness. The results showed that both men and women were more attracted to images of people who made eye contact and smiled than those who did not (source: Psychology Today).

Another study released in 2012 by psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman at the University of Kansas found that “smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy” (source: Psychological Science).

Knowing the specifics of this research is not what makes your smiling more effective. An article in Scientific American explains, that “to reap the benefits of proactive behavioral strategies, you can’t think too much about them.” The point is, all you need to do is remember to smile.

My post yesterday was about a deep tragedy in our country right now and the grief that follows. This post is not to reduce that grief, but to remind you that a smile can go a long way. We must hope, focus on the bright spots, and find ways to face the evil around us with the powerful joy that comes from loving community.

A article called “The Science Behind the Smile” in the Harvard Business Review remarked that “we have a remarkable ability to make the best of things. Most people are more resilient than they realize.”

Do you smile a lot?
How does it effect your attitude?


When Life Gives You Bad Artichokes

Sometimes it seems like the world is out to get you. It began almost two months ago when I had a terrible, no-good, very bad week. On Monday someone close to me was in the hospital, Tuesday brought a smashed car window, Wednesday followed up with a head cold, and Thursday the other car was stolen. This was also my last week of work at my old job. Misery likes to go out with a bang.

As I sat on the phone with my insurance agent, I was irate about the unfairness in the world and felt violated by the loss of a car that had great sentimental meaning to me. The police officer came to file the report and asked “Do you know who has your car?” I blinked at him twice, speechless and exhausted.

He said it was a dumb question, but he had to ask. It was not him I was fed up with, it was a world where such dumb questions had to be asked.

A friend called me that night and determined I was most certainly getting Punk’d so I could look forward to meeting Ashton Kutcher soon. The laughter soothed me like warm bath water, and from then on I was able to chuckle every time I told someone about my series of unfortunate events.

I started a different job, without the tears and anxiety of the last one, and was astonished by the blessing of work that meets my skills and interests.

For two weeks I took the bus and found peace among the people watching, surprised by how my stress evaporated as I surrendered my control of time to the bus schedule. One day I missed the bus, and decided to walk the mile to church instead. I discovered up close the curious sights I previously glanced past when I drove that busy stretch of road encapsulated by my metal shield. I arrived late, and that was perfectly ok.

I experienced acts of kindness from those willing to drive me places, and found new friends while hitching rides to the gym or home from bible study.

I was pushed to finally buy myself a new bike, something I had talked about since moving to Seattle in October. On my first day riding, I stopped at the park on my way home and met a succession of lovely people. The old couple who never spoke but cuddled on the bench next to me. The seven year old, whose mom left her with me while going to the bathroom, and told me she thought spelling was boring. The spandex cyclist who wanted to discuss our nearby sidewalk musician.

After the two and a half week waiting period passed, and my car was declared a lost cause, my fiance and I decided to buy a converted camping van as our new second vehicle. I thought people would think we were insane, but I’ve interpreted hints of envy instead.

So this is how life goes at times. You have a terrible, no good week where it seems like someone dumped your snow globe upside down. But as it settles back into place, you can marvel at how each piece drifts down like leaves in the fall. Bits of glitter catch the light and shimmer in ways you’ve never seen before. The surroundings have changed slightly, but you notice what parts of the foundation remain constant and how beautiful the change can be.

When you fall on your face, and scratch up your hands, you might be surprised to find yourself holding your hands open more often. You also pay more attention to where your feet are going, not necessarily out of paranoia, but out of greater awareness. Open hands and open eyes are postures of peace that sometimes only come after falling.

My new bike, Veronica, named in honor of the spunky and efficient Veronica Mars, who consoled me by solving all the other crimes while my car remained stolen.

My new bike, Veronica, named in honor of the spunky and efficient Veronica Mars, who consoled me by solving all the other crimes while my car remained stolen.

Last week I bought a package of globe artichokes from the grocery store, giddy with the anticipation of savoring one of my favorite foods. When I tried to cook them last night, something I’ve done numerous times before, they wouldn’t cook like normal. They remained tough and tasted bitter.

Artichokes are not lemons, there would be no making lemonade. I had to toss them out completely. And I was irritated.

But here is what you get with bad artichokes: a good reminder of life’s unpredictability. Something I thought I knew so well ended up leaving me confused and frustrated. Whether it be a health problem, a stolen car, or a bad artichoke–these moments wake us up from our complacent comforts. We get the choice to be bitter and tough, or to throw out our righteous indignation and open our eyes to a different possibility.

Months before any of this happened, I wondered what it would be like to face problems with an attitude of excitement rather than frustration. What if, when something goes wrong, I responded with anticipation and joy at the possibility of how God can turn this around and do something wonderful with it? Then I was given the opportunity to find out.

There is a difference between believing God makes bad things happen to you on purpose, and believing God gives you great purpose through the transformation of bad things. 

My pastor in college was a remarkably wise woman, and her final benediction always included a prayer for “peace that passes all understanding.” I scoffed at this idea, thinking that kind of peace was an unreachable dream for my anxious mind. The last two months have contained that peace though. There is no understanding why, because I should have been stressed and worried about the amount of change I was facing. Instead God granted me peace, with open hands and eyes that can throw out a bad artichoke and start over.

I still have two artichokes left. And tonight I’m going to try to cook them another way. Either it will work or it won’t, but I’m happy to try again and look for the opportunity instead of the problem.

What is your response when things go wrong?

Also, what on earth is the secret to cooking globe artichokes?