Skip to main content


I had just finished running my third marathon, and in what has become customary I looked up the winner and went through his race photographs. In studying elite athletes, I examine things like stride, body habitus, and facial expression. In short, I wanted to see how much Kevin Havel had suffered to run a blistering 2:23, which was almost 30 minutes faster than my personal best time of 2:51. I had gone over my own photos, and in many of them I had the look of anguish one associates with getting one’s nails ripped out with pliers. Would Kevin’s face advertise similar agony? To my surprise, the guy was smiling. Okay, so maybe he was posing for photographers, but it got me thinking about the power of the smile. Septuagenarian ultrarunner Eldrith Gosney has said that smiling is her secret weapon. “They say that if you smile, things aren’t as bad as you might think they are – somehow, smiling just makes things better.” I looked at the research, and it turns out that cracking a grin - even when you’re not in good spirits – can improve your mood and reduce stress.

This seems counterintuitive, does it not? It is customary to place cause before effect. If A, then B. The seed comes before the tree. This is the scientific (and Western) approach. But Osho, a Hindu mystic described by the Sunday Times as one of the 1000 makers of the twentieth century, says that it is wise to place greater emphasis on the effect. The seed may give rise to the tree, he says, but it is the tree that is needed to bear more seeds.

People say, “If only I had x, I’d be happy,” where x is more money, a better job, a wonderful spouse, a trip to Hawaii, etc. Instead, focus on the effect. Be happy, and often you will attract the cause, be it vacation, mate, or raise. And in the quest to be happier, what better place to start than with a smile, which is the most convincing physical indicator of well-being. Because if you smile, even when you are down, you may convince yourself that you are happy, and others will be convinced as well. And what’s more, your mood may be contagious.

“Smile and the world smiles with you,” as they say.


Popular posts from this blog


I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…


I hereby proclaim that June is meditation month. And July and August and some of September too. For me at least. During the hundred days that comprise summer, give or take, I have taken it upon myself to "assume the position" for approximately one hour each day, usually divided into two 30-minute sessions. During this time I sit in front of a candle flame, let my breathing subside, and with it my mental activity, and literally count the seconds.

The reductive tendency that is emblematic of science has penetrated schools of meditation, and there are many, each of which advertises its particular breed as, if not being the best, at least boasting novel or specific benefits not found in other forms of meditation. 

For example, there is mindfulness, which is the monitoring of thoughts. There is concentration or focus, as on an object or the breath. There is transcendental meditation, which uses the inward repetition of a phrase, or mantra, to "allow your active mind to easily …


To be spontaneous or systematic, that's the question. Or SOS, as the Police sing. Within me these two opposing characteristics are ever at war. I suppose we're all born more of the former. What child is not up for a trip to the candy store on a whim? But our educational system drums in the systematic approach to problem solving. You must progress from number 1 to 10 on your test. Each class is 50 minutes long. Etc. And indeed having a schedule and being methodical can lead to greater material success. If you only do what you feel like you may never study math, or organize your closet. But enslaving yourself to a ritual can suck all the fun out of life. To reconcile the two approaches we've evolved the weekend, which is basically a short vacation from the rigid workday, a time to play in an unstructured way. The athlete has his rest days, a time away from play. The family has the trip to the Bahamas. There are semester breaks in school, though having an entire summer off is…