For most of my life, I’ve worn a frown. There have been times when people have suggested I smile more often. Even strangers stab at my *frown.* One glorious fall afternoon when the chill breeze felt as crisp as the falling leaves, I was walking home from my daycare job in Ann Arbor, MI. Some guy hanging out on the steps of the student Union, called to me:
Why are you so sad? Is it the world? Is it your life? Turn the frown around!
The last bit sounded like an order. Truth was, I felt fine, maybe even happy, but I engendered “depression” in my face. Psychologists have a name for it: depressed facies. It’s one of the clinical signs of depression. Just looking at a person we gauge their peace, their friendliness, their openness to contact with us. It’s not always the case. Sometimes a person learns to mask their depression with a happy countenance, called smiling depression – and sometimes, as in my case, the mouth has a natural downturn, without depression. It’s pretty common when folks are overtired (as I was back in the days of working full time and attending night school) and everything about them appears to drag, including their smile.
During my young adulthood, I identified myself as a survivor, a strong, tough one. As I grew older, I sucked up the weight of the world as if it was a milkshake. My yoga teacher remarked once that when he looked at me, all he saw was the weight and tension I carried upon my shoulders.
Fortunately, through meditation and yoga practice, I’ve realized how I have created my own sense of self and that I can change that identity. I can look at the world through another lens. I can be the smiling one! I am the laughing one!
The Vietnamese meditation master and Noble Laureate, Thich Nhat Hanh, tells us to practice smiling. It’s tough, though certainly not impossible, to feel “down” when you’re smiling! Just as it’s tough to be around depressed folks because the sadness transmits to you, it’s wonderful to be with a happy person. Happiness is contagious too.
Here’s a video AJ sent me today that made me smile until I was laughing out loud. Can you watch it without smiling? I found it even better the second time through. It’s a sure-fire upper. Hope you enjoy! It’s called Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.
Smiles breed more smiles. Try it: walk around smiling at folks, even folks you don’t know. Smile at complete strangers and share what happens. Or do what Matt did and begin dancing–anywhere and everywhere.
By the way, I really laughed at him in the Korean DMZ.