I’ve always been a deep thinker and a worrier. As such, my demeanor appears to be very stoic at times. When I was younger I used to get annoyed when people would tell me to relax or lighten up. But the worst thing someone could say to me was, “You should smile more,” or “Smile!” I always thought to myself, just because I’m not smiling doesn’t mean I’m unhappy…but it didn’t mean I was happy either. So what did it mean?
It meant I was preoccupied with anything and everything outside of myself and my experience in that moment. Of course, a child knows no better, and for one reason or another (which I won’t go into now), that is the way I learned how to filter my immediate experience. Only in the past few years as I’ve practiced meditation seriously (among other things) have I begun to change my habitual patterns of thought and action.
So what about this title? Well, the other day I was standing on the train enjoying the moment, focusing on my breath and my inner workings. I felt very present and I started to smile. Understand, I didn’t have anything to be particularly happy about. In fact, I was headed home to do some work I really didn’t want to do. So why smile? Because I was experiencing the joy of being.
As I smiled, I looked around. The train was quite crowded. Everyone’s faces were blank, or frowning. Some kids started performing their dance routine at the other end of the car. Most New Yorkers will know them as the “Show-time” performers. As soon as they began, I saw many people sigh, roll their eyes, stare daggers, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the sentiment. There have been weeks in which I’ve run into those guys every single day. It can be a bit much when you’re trying to relax on your train ride home, but ultimately you have the choice as to whether it will affect your peace of mind. In any case, people were annoyed and angry.
I thought, how curious! It almost seemed as if those people were pre-disposed to getting upset. It goes back to the article I posted on Tuesday wherein I spoke about Perfectionism, aka Failurism. It’s as if we are wired to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. We allow the pain and self-loathing of every little failure to bleed into everything else.
Now, let me ask you, how often do you dwell on positive things? How often do you allow the positive aspects and successes in your life to seep into all corners of your experience? For most, the answer is never.
When we achieve something or experience joy, it’s usually momentary. It fades quickly, then it’s onto the next thing. Well, guess what? The same thing applies to pain and failure. It is only because we choose to hold onto the pain that we allow it to infect our state of being.
So instead of telling you to smile more, I say to you, learn to smile more. This is not easy. Nothing that’s worth doing ever is. It requires a complete overhaul of some very embedded patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. In many ways it is easier to simply deal with the pain and get on with your life. If that is your choice, so be it, but realize that we don’t have to operate that way.
How you go about this challenging task is up to you. I’ve spoken about quite a few healthy habits that I believe can help. Even these practices can seem daunting, but they need not cause you anxiety. Pick one or a few, or come up with your own and try it out. What’s the worst that can happen? You will find what works for you.
For some, it is as simple as frequently checking in with the breath and grounding oneself in the moment. It’s like a lot of mini-meditations. It takes time, but you will see as you cultivate presence, appreciation, lovingkindess, and compassion, you will have more and more reasons to smile.
When you carry that joy with you, then the burdens, sorrows, and pains of daily life become just passing debris on the river of life.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained (and training) actor and singer living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.