30 Days of Wellness

Learning to Smile

Years ago, an older gentleman approached me in a Kroger parking lot insisting I smile. Me being me, out of pure annoyance that someone dare suggest such a thing, I gave him the broadest, most exaggerated smile I could muster. He likely didn’t appreciate my sarcastic response, but at the least, he did get what he asked for, and I felt a little joy in my display of displeasure at his remark. Fast-forward nearly a decade later, and here I am reflecting on how I’ve taken care of myself in the past, and how I want to present myself now and in the future: I choose happy.

To begin my journey toward personal happiness, I decided that the best medicine was to wear a smile. Throughout the day whenever I felt the corners of my mouth pull into a frown, I would take a breath in and relax my facial muscles into a neutral smile. When I encountered people in the hallways at work, I greeted each one with a genuine smile, especially those who were wearing heavy frowns or looked overtly irritated at life. No matter the situation or who I encountered, I smile and it paid off!

The payoff wasn’t simply feeling happy; it was so much more. Since springtime, I have been clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth throughout the day and during sleep. This practice caused me to break the root of a tooth I had previously had a root canal on, leading to the tooth being extracted, a bone graft placed, and prep for a sinus lift and implant placement. However, since my career is extremely stressful and requires me to speak often, after doing a little research, I opted to forego surgery and have a bridge placed instead (this was also due to me cracking another molar in the area; had that not happened, I likely would have gone through the surgery and be in the midst of a long recovery). Since I began smiling more often, I have felt more relaxed mentally but also physically.

As mentioned before, I clench and grind my teeth. Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it; it just happens. However, once I started to relax my facial muscles into a neutral smile when I felt the corners of my mouth droop, I began to notice just how often I was clenching my jaw and how much tension I was holding in my face and neck throughout the day. As soon as I lifted the corners of my mouth, I began to feel immediate relief. It was amazing. Not only did I feel lighter, I felt less stress, and was more willing to work and interact with others cordially. Had I known in April all I needed to do was smile more, that’s exactly what I would’ve done.

Now, none of this feels natural to me. Being relatively introverted and not wanting to be approachable, I have mastered the RBF (resting bitch face). Frankly, wearing a frown and furrowing my brow feels more natural, and my husband has even grown accustomed to the look I’ve achieved over the past decade of our marriage. Although I smile often for family, friends, and the occasional photo, smiling when I’m working or when I’m grocery shopping isn’t who I am. I just can’t picture myself looking pleasant as I peruse the local grocer’s produce selection. But, with this new change of perception and a desire to be happy and exude a positive, loving light, it is me now and there’s no turning back. I feel amazing! I love it. I will look happy as I grocery shop. And, I don’t care if my husband caught me practicing my smile during our two-hour car ride to the next town over this past weekend and semi laughed at my efforts. I’m going to keep doing it, even if I still look and feel awkward. After all, I’m still learning to smile, and this practice will take more time and effort in order for me to see a more permanent change.

The more I smile, the happier I feel, the more energy I have, and most importantly, I am more relaxed.

Had I taken that older gentleman’s advice to smile that day in the grocer’s parking lot, I may not be here sharing my journey. I could possibly be living an entirely different life, having a different perception of my current reality; but what good does it do to look back and focus on the what ifs-? It doesn’t do any good. I am living in the here and now; in the present. I choose to smile, and I choose to be happy.

This week, what are you doing for you to achieve your goals? Where are you on your journey toward a healthier and happier you? Share your journey in the comments below.

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