How Smiling Retrains Your Brain

All my life I’ve heard people tell me I need to smile more. This morning, I was reading “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about her fearful childhood and how her mother would call her “Pitiful Pearl.” I thought of my father and some of his “pet” names for me, one of which was “Gloomy Gus.” Now that’s something to live up to—and I have managed to do it for most of my life. Thanks Dad.

Smiles come along for me, but they are not big, wide grins like I see when I look at photos like the one that sits here on my desk. My sister, Vicky had the most beautiful, bright smile. It just lit you up to see it; she smiled easily and often. I look at the photo of the two of us, and there’s my smile, that little grin hardly visible. I can count the big smiles on one hand—the ones that come from down deep and crawl up from my heart to my throat and then to my face, bring a smile that nearly cracks my face—or feels like it anyway.

One was when I was riding horseback on the beach at Half Moon Bay, in the surf, realizing that I could actually ride without the criticism of my father to sit up straighter or point my toes in or hold the reins correctly. I just rode and the horse’s hooves kicked along in the sudsy surf and someone else noticed and made mention that I looked like I knew how to ride. Me??

And there was the time on the ice when my father and I were skating on the lake at Byrd Park in Virginia. It was so cold and we were soldered together with rigid arms that kept us tightly moving as one, my father’s long legs carrying me far beyond where my legs could go—around the lake, faster and faster, cold night air freezing my wide grin across my face; I was so happy I could have literally lifted off into space.

And, the most recent (if you can call 7 years ago recent) when we were zip-lining in Hawaii. I was afraid, very nervous and despite my fear, I stepped forward and said, me first! The smile I see in the photograph as I stood on the platform, having already zipped my first length of cable—ahead of the others—says it all. That fear that I managed to push aside, tamp down and leap out. Whether it was on horseback, on ice or on a serious of cables stretched over the jungle canopy in Maui. I can remember how all of those smiles felt and why they felt so good.  And I want more of them.

An interesting article, “11 Surprising Reasons You Should Smile,” gives me more reason than ever go after what makes me smile–and even when I hear my father calling his little daughter Gloomy Gus I will fight against it and smile, smile, smile!


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