Life Lesson #5: Start Your Day with a Smile

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When I was a kid, my mom and I took voice lessons together. When it came time for the recital, all the child students were assigned songs from the musical Annie. I was given “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.” I had to memorize the song, and those lyrics have stayed with me through the decades.

Hey, hobo man
Hey, Dapper Dan
You’ve both got your style
But Brother,
You’re never fully dressed
Without a smile!

It’s dated, but it also turns out there may be something to intentionally putting on a smile.

Smile, even if it is fake.

Psychology Today’s 2012 article “There’s Magic In Your Smile ” says:

Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.

For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever – 100% organically and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic concoctions.

Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter. Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you again don’t have to worry about negative side effects – and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor.

To be clear, these results of increased happiness are generated in Psychology labs where they asked participants to fake smile. These are fake smiles making real happiness. A fake smile can lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, relieve pain, lift your mood, and in general make you feel better.

To that I say, let us each start the day with fake smiles and maybe they will become real.

There is a particular kind of smile called the Duchenne smile which is the smile that makes creases around your eyes. Researchers agree that the Duchenne smile produces the most happiness-related brain activity.

Ten years ago in my first Psychology class, they used to teach that you couldn’t fake the Duchenne smile, but I have always been able to consistently do it. Now, researchers estimate that only 5% of people can fake this smile. For me, making the Duchenne smile is thinking about pulling my cheeks into my eyes before I smile with my mouth.

Find happiness, even in misery.

”If we must be awake at this hour, let us at least be cheerful.”

My father used to say some variation of this quote all throughout my childhood. It was a reminder that joy could be found in the most mundane tasks or miserable moments. It is how my father and I came to love grocery shopping. How I came to enjoy the satisfaction of cleaning out the fridge. How, now as a parent, I have come to look forward to diaper changes, preparing dinner, and tidying the house.

Just as a fake smile can make real happiness, fake happiness can create real enjoyment. Find the joy in each moment. “Count it all joy, my brothers!

Washing dishes is quite the chore. In fact, studies have found that how the chore of washing dishes is distributed between spouses predicts how happy the marriage is. It is the chore to beat all chores. It is the grind of the daily grind.

There are many strategies that can be employed when doing something that you don’t really want to do. My best strategy is to cultivate happiness.

How could you enjoy this moment more? Do that.

Sometimes, you are free to change the circumstances of the disliked task. For example, listen to an audiobook, dance to music, or talk to your child while washing dishes. These types of changes can simply make the task improved.

Other times, you may be trapped in your circumstances, but you are not trapped in your mind. Make challenges and games for yourself. Turn your breathing into a cadence for your task. Let your mind wander.

My father always says he is “cut happy.” When he says it, he means that his default method of encountering life is to find happiness. When I hear the phrase though, I’m always reminded of how you can find the happiness in most moments if you simply cultivate the practice of carving it out. You must serve yourself your life’s happiness.

You get to choose how you respond to reality.

Photo by chaitanya pillala on Unsplash

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Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.