COUNSELOR'S CORNER: Smiling in the New Year

By Fred Cavaiani

One of the best New Year's resolutions you can make is a decision to smile more. In his book "Smile, The Astonishing Power of a Simple Act," Ron Gutman, gives documented evidence of the power of a smile. He recommends that we smile often - as much as we can. Infants start smiling when they are in the womb. People who smile often live longer lives. Smiling when we are alone upflifts our mood and helps us have a positive attitude about life. Babies learn at about three months that they can get other people to smile by smiling at them. It is amazing what the power of a smile can do for each of us personally and for the whole world.

When you get up in the morning, start smiling. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile at yourself. You deserve to be treated with a smile first thing in the morning. Smile on your way to work. Smile at everyone who crosses your path this day. Smile as you are watching television. Smile at your spouse and your children. Smile at the people with whom you work. Smile when you are driving home.

I know, this all seems contrived and artificial. I thought the same thing. But then I started smiling. I have been amazed at what happens to me and what happens to the people around me. Strangers create a bond when one smiles at the other. Physiologically and psychologically something positive happens when we smile. It is as if the ability to soothe ourselves by a smile is built into our genetic makeup. Watching our new two day old granddaughter soothe herself on her first day of life outside the womb by sucking her fingers, I was reminded how beautifully we are made. The smile is our way of soothing ourselves and soothing others. It is so simple that we are afraid to try it.

Traveling to a different country where we are strangers can be unsettling when we wish to gain information and do not know the language or culture. A smile invites people to connect with us and help us. I discovered this traveling through France and Spain a couple of years ago. Each time I visit my local health club I smile at everyone who catches my eye as I walk in and walk out. It is amazing how many people walk around with a sober look and yet how easily a smile flashes across their face when they see my smiling face. It is as if we have both made a momentary connection.

Now here is the unbelievable result of smiling. I have been smiling when something seems difficult or painful. If I feel worried or disappointed or hurt by what someone says, I smile. My attitude quickly changes and I see things in a more positive manner. Little things do not become big things and little hurts just fade away. It seems impossible to hang on to hurts and resentments and wishes for other people to be different when I am smiling. I am convinced that God has put into our system the power to make our own personal lives more peaceful and optimistic and the world around us a better and more nurturing place to live. This starts with a smile, a simple smile. But a simple smile propels us to a deeper more hopeful attitude about life and self than we can ever imagine. It also propels us into a relationship with Something or Someone deeper in our life that we can ever imagine. I think the mystics in life must have smiled often. People I have known for many years that seem quite happy to me all smile a lot.

There was a study made of baseball players in the 50s and 60s who had their pictures on baseball cards. Thos who didn't smile, lived an average of 72 years. Those who smiled more lived for about 76 years. Those who had big smiles lived for 79 years and beyond. Whatever the accuracy of this study is, it shows a trend that smiling is good for our health. I read that smiling helps our cardiovascular activity. So I started smiling as I work out on the elliptic trainer. I discovered that when I am smiling my heart rate rises about five beats per minute. I tried it a number of times. It worked. Maybe I skewed my study by attitude. Who knows. But I am going to keep smiling when I work out.

What happens to you emotionally when someone looks at you and smiles? For 80% of us we will smile back. For a brief moment we have forgotten about ourselves and connected to someone else. Do this also with yourself. Smile at yourself and with yourself. It will create an inner climate within you that will be loving and positive.

I know this seems so simple that you might think, "Fred has really gone over the edge this time." Please trust me on this one. Just smile often, and smile often when you are by yourself. It will change your life.

Don't be afraid of the simplicity of this idea. Most, no not most, all successful ideas, spiritual and emotional are really quite simple. It is the simple action or gesture that brings us to profound, peaceful and passionate journeys in life. Establishing a loving connection with others, with God and with ourselves is a profound, peaceful and passionate journey. And it can all start with a simple smile.

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Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@yahoo.com and his website is fredthecounselor.com.

Published: Wed, Jan 4, 2012