The Smile Test
I'm a happy person.
I imagine that anyone who has met me would include 'happy' in the first three words they use to describe me. I spend a lot of time researching joy, now I feel like it's time to offload the things I've learned, and snippets of the research I obsess over.
Before I go on, I'm going to ask you to do something unusual. Please bear with me, and give it a try. It's simple, and surprisingly effective. For the rest of the time it takes to read this article, I want you to smile. Not just on the inside, on your actual face. Starting right this second. Go!
Hold that smile on your face for dear life until this is finished. Now, back to the story.
Are you a 'happy person', or a 'not happy person'? I believe most of us can claim one of these states as our default setting. Most people outwardly tend more towards one than the other. Yes, the 'happys' have bad days – and the 'nots' are happy for short periods of time, but we generally identify more with one.
The good news is, your default setting isn't permanent. You have complete and utter control. The even better news is – its a lot easier than you may think. Yes, it comes more naturally for some than others, but even those deep in the 'not' box can take a few very easy mechanical steps to notice a difference.
By now, some of you have forgotten to smile, time to paste that grin back on. Feel silly? What if people see you smile? Isn't it odd that no one feels silly frowning in public, but we feel like we have to have a valid reason to be happy, or people might think we're daft. The general public seems to be default 'not happy'. The general public seems to be waiting for happiness to arrive, but waiting doesn't work. The only way to happiness is through choice. For now, all you need to do is choose to smile.
I learned quite early that happiness is a choice. I think I can actually pin point the moment. I was about 16. I was in the middle of a long teenage angst-fest. It was a full blown pity party, complete with an endless stream of writing long-winded, awful poetry and feeling misunderstood. Pretty standard for a teenage girl, I'm sure. I was at the supermarket with my twin brother, and he told me how easy it was to make other people smile by being kind, or funny (my brother is very funny). We approached the check-out, and the lady working there seemed disinterested and a bit down. He said something funny and we watched her face light up. For some reason, in that moment, I learned that happiness is a choice, and that being kind is one of the best ways to feel it yourself. I learned it on a real, visceral, cellular level, and have carried it with me since.
Since then my life has been a massive joy-fest. It hasn't been continually happy – that might actually classify me for a disorder. I've been through quite a few very real and awful situations, and of course those have knocked me off my joy-train quite hard. What I do mean, is that I strive to feel and pour out as much joy as possible in my day to day life. When I get stuck in traffic, or have to wash the dishes, or deal with difficult people – I generally manage to maintain my joy, I carry it with me, and if I concentrate, I can access it it most of the time.
Lets get back to your smiling. Have you noticed that smiling is making you feel happier? That'll be the science working. Many researchers have conducted tests, and found strong evidence that even fake smiles fire neurons in our brains that make us feel good. Most of us think that smiling, or joy happens because of an external event. We've all thought “I'll be happy when...” Whether it's a new job, a holiday, starting a family, or even worse, the perfect combination of all these things. This puts us in an endless loop of dreaming up goals, achieving them, and setting new ones. There's absolutely nothing wrong with goals, but when we make them a condition for joy, we are unhappy until they happen. When we reach the goal, joy is short lived, then a new goal becomes the focus.
Let's flip that on its head. Choose joy now, learn to feel joy in mundane, day to day life, and make the road to your goals much more pleasant and fulfilling.
So how do you choose joy? I have so many suggestions, but lets start with the simple one you've been practicing today. Your joy-work for this article is to smile. Not just when you're happy, but to make yourself feel happy. I find the best place to practice this is in the car. It takes away a little of the silly factor, because the people in the cars near you might think you're listening to a hilarious podcast. Run with that if it works for you, it does for me. Smile for at least 15 minutes a day for the next week, and check in with how you feel after that.
In the mean time, I'll be writing more ways for you to find, feel and hold onto joy.
Happy Days beautiful people.
Would you like to inject more joy into your daily life? Join this Facebook Group - On Joy, and be part of our joy-seeking conversation.
Looking for some joyful moments to feast your eyes on? Check out my Instagram feed