Take it or leave it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


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.

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