The more the better. Go big or go home. Two of my workout mantras.
If I can do something that safely and properly works out more muscles or more muscle groups at one time, then why wouldn’t I? Makes sense – right?
Common sense tells me to look for workout efficiencies. After all, the party I’m hoping the happy endorphins will have in my head is the end goal and if I can get there safely and with proper form but quicker, why wouldn’t I?
If you’re buyin’ what I’m sellin’, then my advice to you is simple: smile more.
You heard me. Smile more.
While there’s tons of discussion out there about the muscles involved in smiling and frowning and what constitutes a smile versus a frown, scientists generally agree that if you boil it down, a smile that only raises the corners of the lips and the upper lip a bit uses 10 muscles, whereas a simple frown uses six.
So going back to my workout efficiency argument, this is a 67% difference in workout efficiency in smiling versus frowning! The workout warrior in me can’t help but smile at the thought.
Likewise, scientists estimate that it takes about 30 muscles to laugh, as opposed to about 20 to stick your tongue out. That’s a 50% difference in workout efficiency and I think we can all agree that we’d rather cut to the chase and let loose the happy endorphins that go with laughter than potentially forego the experience entirely. (Having said this, I will concede that a tongue stuck out ‘tongue in cheek’ generally results in laughter on all sides so there are obvious exceptions to the rule. Lol.)
Smiling sends important messages to the brain that have the potential to change the way we feel and behave.
Years ago, in one call centre’s quest to improve the quality of their customer service, a consultant advised them to put mirrors in front of all of their representatives. The supervisors got on board with the idea (after all, it was their job to promote quality service to their customers) but none of them could have anticipated the win-win that came from this simple change: customers reported greater levels of satisfaction and employees reported less mental fatigue, more happiness, and greater job satisfaction.
Wow! Great news! But why?
The mirror provided the customer service representative’s brain with information on how they were feeling about the general ‘good or bad’ tenor of the conversations they were having. When conversations were going well, the representatives smiled more and these smiles were captured in the mirror, sending positive vibes to the brain. These vibes led to feelings of contentment, which promoted access to important service-oriented problem-solving channels in the brain. If the conversation was not going well and the representative was feeling discouraged, the mirror cued them into their frowns and the associated negativity, prompting them to want to change their reflection to a more positive (smiling) one. In short, the mirror provided the catalyst needed to break the negative cycle and allow more positivity to enter into their personal experience and that of the customer. That’s a win-win if ever there was one.
So smiling sends important, positive messages to our brain. Got it. But (there’s always a but), it doesn’t end there. For better or worse, smiling also sends important messages to others about us.
Social scientists have found that smiling and frowning leave impressions on others that are universal across cultures. Smiling is associated with friendliness, while frowning is associated with sadness and disapproval. For better or worse, others view our smiles and frowns as indicative of our emotional state, mental wellbeing, health, and credibility. From there, it tends to pan out along the lines of that old English proverb you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. People naturally gravitate to happy, smiling people. Simply put, a smile really is the shortest distance between two people.
Don’t want to smile because you don’t care what others think? Fair enough. Don’t do it for them. Do it for you!
Make a conscious effort to smile more and your own personal feelings of happiness and wellbeing will increase. What’s more, according to one Chinese proverb, every smile makes you a day younger. So we’re actually talking about increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing AND a little ticket to the fountain of youth? You bet you can sign me up to smile more!
Now, please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying plastering a smile on your face when you’re crying on the inside should be your new modus operandi. It’s simply not possible to smile 100% of the time. Life’s not like that. But if your thoughts are broken and smiles become increasingly hard to come by, reach out. Please. If you had a broken arm, you wouldn’t just live with it, you’d reach out. Broken thoughts are no different. Reach out. Mental health is health.
In the end, I guess what I want to offer up is the idea that there’s a HUGE upside to smiling more often, both for our own personal happiness and wellbeing but also for the relationships we seek to establish with others. Go ahead and make a conscious decision to smile more often and see what happens. If smiles really are contagious, this could be the start of something pretty amazing. No. Something pretty AWESOME!
Don’t borrow trouble -- three simple words strung together to make a statement that, on the surface, is relatively easy to understand. But living by them? Well, that’s an entirely different story.
Growing up, I can recall my Mom telling me (and on more than one occasion) that no good would come from borrowing trouble. She knew me and still knows me so very well. I’m naturally an anxious sort. Some might even say I’m queen of the what ifs.
I appreciate it when situations and circumstances that will impact me offer a window of opportunity (and it doesn’t have to be a big window at all) whereby I can exert some control and actively work to shape my destiny. Coming up with what if scenarios is my brain’s processing ‘go to’, and the loops it puts out have been known to drive me rather bat sh*t crazy.
Ahh….self awareness is a beautiful thing.
I mention the beauty I find in self awareness of my natural propensity toward anxiety partly to bring some levity to the whole vibe around my experience – humour is a fantastic and well-documented moderator of stress -- but mostly to make the point that knowing what you’re up against can be half (or more than half) the battle. Please don’t misunderstand me; anxiety is a serious issue and I have seen firsthand how its effects vary from individual to individual, spanning the gamut from a person being a bit hesitant in new situations to someone being completely paralyzed at the thought of leaving their house. Anxiety is very real and to brush it off in any way is not cool. I simply choose to see elements of humour in my own personal anxiety experience. It may not help everyone to do so but it helps me, so I’m throwing it out there.
Funny thing about anxiety is that the messages keep coming, like the one right now that’s telling me to digress and indicate quite clearly my view on mental health, lest someone think I’m flippant when it comes to its importance. Mental health is health and mental health matters. Period. It’s so important and yet we’re so quick to dismiss it because there’s so much we can’t see about how a person’s thoughts are connected. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it until the day I die: if your arm was broken, you wouldn’t sit there and live with it – you’d reach out for help – why do we not act the same when our thoughts are broken? Reach out. You matter. The world needs you to be your very best you and it’s not about perfection. Oh no, my friend! Perfection is totally overrated; being your best on your worst day is where it’s at.
Getting back to the idea of not borrowing trouble and my mind’s natural inclination toward what if, I feel the need to share a recent personal victory on this front, courtesy of some Devil’s Advocate self-talk I decided to try.
I’m a 50 year old woman who watches what she eats (more often than not) and appreciates the value of the party that the happy endorphins have in my brain after some physical activity. Until recently, if you asked me if I had any physical health concerns, I would have told you ‘no’, other than perhaps losing a few pounds. I really have been blessed with good health for many years. So imagine my surprise when a routine mammogram revealed a “suspicious result”, necessitating a recall ‘magnification view’ mammogram and ultrasound. I was beside myself.
I immediately went to my iPad and scoured various sites for rates of false-positives, and was met with all manner of findings on pre-menopausal and post-menopausal rates and a deluge of information on the impact of having dense breast tissue on mammogram detection rates. I knew I was post-menopausal and that the only mammogram baseline they had to work from was a pre-menopausal one but did I have dense breasts? Hell if I knew! I had never heard of this and, thus, had no idea to ask, but that’s beside the point; I was already borrowing trouble. The what if processing loop had already gained some traction.
Hindsight being what it is, please listen to me when I say emphatically DO NOT go to the internet for health information when faced with news you weren’t expecting. Talk to your doctor directly. If he or she is suggesting follow-up testing, ask questions. If he/she won’t answer them, ask a different doctor. Most of all, believe them if they tell you that they’re just being cautious and don’t borrow trouble. Doctors, while human, swore an oath first to do no harm, and remember also that malpractice insurers don’t take kindly to their insureds brushing off unusual findings that can easily be investigated further.
But, as I was saying, I looked at the net and the what if scenarios were being generated with great speed. What I needed was something to throw a wrench in the generator and that’s when my Mom’s wise advice surfaced from the memories of my youth and moved to the forefront of my thinking: don’t borrow trouble. No question. I was, indeed, borrowing trouble.
As I meditated on the idea of not borrowing trouble, my mind drifted toward the whole Devil’s Advocate strategy that I had used so successfully throughout my career to flesh out thoughts, ideas, and strategies, and in that moment, it hit me like a freight train: what if this IS nothing? What if the doctors ARE just being cautious? What will I have gained by worrying? Nothing. Not one d*mn thing. What will I have lost? Joy. Any chance of experiencing joy while I’m waiting to find out the results would be stolen from me because time has this habit of marching on, meaning there’s zero chance of going back and asking for a do-over if I learn that it is, indeed, nothing.
By the way, the magnification view mammogram and ultrasound revealed three “unusual spots”, necessitating a biopsy, which I will have in the coming week. And once again, my doctor has told me that they need to be cautious and it could still be nothing so I’ve decided to run with the idea of not borrowing trouble. I’ve made the Devil’s Advocate my new (almost) best friend. I don’t want to miss one minute of the joy that’s right in front of me: my husband’s devotion to our family and his super-whacky wit, my son’s success in the employment law class he was dreading and his ability to balance school and his part-time job at the bank, my daughter’s phone calls and SnapChat stories, chronicling her adventures and personal victories in her first year at university. Nor do I want to miss the joy I find in my writing, walks and cuddles with my two fur-babies, lunches with my best friend, Monika, who kicked breast cancer to the curb a few years ago and has a wonderful habit of calling me out regularly for borrowing trouble, and the gab sessions I have with family and friends across the miles who regularly fill my loving cup to overflowing. There’s so much joy out there for me. I am, indeed, tremendously blessed. Why would I ever choose borrowing trouble over experiencing joy?
For me, life is about having no regrets, only lessons learned. This lesson was a good one.
Penny has a degree in social and developmental psychology and has devoted her career to programming for kids of all ages in the fields of physical and intellectual literacy. This dedicated fitness enthusiast and involved mom of two university students lives in Oakville with Rob, a great guy with whom she'll soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019.