What makes your life worth living? Name it, have more of it, expand it, build on it. Identify what’s going well rather than what’s going wrong and focus on that, create more space for THAT.
There’s Magic In Your Smile
By Sarah Stevenson
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s a rough morning. First, my alarm doesn’t go off. Then I’m late getting my son to school because another driver decides to roll into me. It doesn’t damage my car, but it completely wrecks my mood. Then I get to my doctors appointment only to realize I’m an hour early. Just great. It must be a case of the Mondays!
I decide to pop into little French cafe around the corner to grab a cup of tea while I’m waiting. As I sit under my little gray cloud, my pretty, young server Colette flashes me a dazzling smile that sticks there for the entire interaction. I can’t help but smile back. In fact, I even catch myself smiling while washing my hands in the bathroom. Suddenly my day doesn’t seem so bad. I finish my tea and head to my appointment equipped with a grin on my face, feeling as though I’ve slipped on a pair of rose-colored glasses. Today’s lesson? It turns out that when I smile, the world smiles back.
Scientist and spiritual teachers alike agree that the simple act can transform you and the world around you. Current research (and common sense) shows us that a smile is contagious (1). It can make us appear more attractive to others. It lifts our mood as well as the moods of those around us. (Merci, Colette.) And it can even lengthen our lives (2). So before you read on, slap a nice, genuine smile on that face of yours. You’ll thank me later.
How Smiling Affects Your Brain
Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.
For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress(3). Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever – 100% organically and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic concoctions (4).
Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter (5). Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you again don’t have to worry about negative side effects – and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor.
How Smiling Affects Your Body
You’re actually better looking when you smile – and I’m not just trying to butter you up. When you smile, people treat you differently. You’re viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia reported that seeing an attractive smiling face activates your orbitofrontal cortex, the region in your brain that process sensory rewards. This suggests that when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded.
It also explains the 2011 findings by researchers at the Face Research Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Subjects were asked to rate smiling and attractiveness. They found that both men and women were more attracted to images of people who made eye contact and smiled than those who did not (6). If you don’t believe me, see how many looks you get when you walk outside with that smile your wearing right now. (You’re still smiling like I asked, right?)
How Smiling Affects Those Around You
Did you know that your smile is actually contagious? The part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area (7). In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw (8). It took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.
Looking at the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives.
My morning started a complete mess. Anyone in my shoes would have been frowning by the time they hit that café. We can’t always control what happens to us, but I am 100% confident that gracing your face with a grin can seriously change your internal and external experience. Your smile is something that should be worn often, so make it a priority to surround yourself with people, places and things that brighten your day. Vow to be the positive, happy person in your group of friends. Watch funny movies often and be sure to look people in the eye and show them your pearly whites. The world is simply a better place when you smile.
1. Primitive emotional contagion. Hatfield, Elaine; Cacioppo, John T.; Rapson, Richard L. Clark, Margaret S. (Ed), (1992). Emotion and social behavior. Review of personality and social psychology, Vol. 14., (pp. 151-177). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc, xi, 311 pp.
2. Abel E. and Kruger M. (2010) Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity, Psychological Science, 21, 542–544.
3. Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett; 2009:258
4. R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press.
“NEVER GIVE UP
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up”
― Dalai Lama XIV
The basis of heart empowerment as a complete system for fulfillment starts with remembering to quiet your mind, go to your heart, and follow your own heart directives to manage the regular day-to-day situations of life. You realize you are responsible for how you mange your system. It’s your own inner business.
You achieve balance by listening to your heart directives and self-correcting your inefficient thoughts, feelings and attitudes with heart power. It’s just common sense to go for the feeling of knowingness inside. Most of us have a lot of old programming to clear out and reprogram with wiser energy-saving attitudes. No one else is going to do it for you. No one else is going to give you fulfillment. Your security lies within you, just waiting for you to find it.”
—Sara Paddison, “The Hidden Power of the Heart”
“It doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen by choice. It happens when a deeper want demands attention—and is fully honored.”
“It’s easy to ignore the call of a deeper want, and even easier to come up with reasons why now is not the time to honor it. I did that for years. But the resullt of being deaf to my deepest desire was an unfulfilling life, a life of compromise and postponement.
Thank goodness I found Bonnie. As my life coach, she rolled out a red carpet invitiation to heed the call of my deepest want and to start living a fulfilling life right now. And because of her encouragement and support, I was able to do so.
Bonnie helped me move forward, despite my fear, by encouraging me to tap into something that is bigger than fear—excitement, curiosity, passion. She helped me see the big picture and create a space around a problem so that insights could arise. She was deeply committed to my success, even when I was filled with self-doubt.
The result is that I’m now excited about my future, which seems full of possibilities. More important, I’m deeply satisfied with my life as it unfolds. That’s because, thanks to Bonnie, I’m no longer settling for a life of compromise and postponement. I’m living the real thing, right here, right now.” — J. Griffin
This is a very personal story and I am sharing it now because it’s time, and because I wonder how many of you have found peace to be an elusive thing?
Before I found HeartMath® I lived with a pain in my heart that was there day and night, every day. I was never able to feel peace, in any setting or circumstance. Peace was simply not available to me.
This thing I came to call “heart feeling” drove me to seek help beginning at age 19 and I continued to seek help at different points over many years. I saw many therapists and went through a lot of talk therapy and nothing helped.
I did a great deal of self help of every kind, from body work to energy work to yoga and meditation. Even while meditating, that pain, that sensation was always there and peace eluded me.
When I decided to train to be certified as a HeartMath® coach my practice became very regular and disciplined and with the help of my HeartMath®coaches I became very skilled at practicing the HeartMath® tools and techniques. One day while practicing a HeartMath® technique it was as if a dam broke in my heart and I began to cry and I cried for a long time. It was very powerful and when the crying stopped my heart was free and I settled into a peace I had never known.
For me this was a miracle.
Who doesn’t want peace in their heart, peace in there life? By accessing the wisdom and intelligence in our own hearts we can learn to drop into that place of true peace. If you are breathing and have a heart, you too can find this heart of peace.
Where’s the Gap? No, not the retail-clothing store, but the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in your life. Is your gap in the area of your career? The quality of your relationships? Your health and well-being? The balance between work and family? Maybe yours is the Grand Canyon of gaps: the sense of yearning, the feeling that there should be more meaning and purpose to life than what you are currently experiencing.
The idea of life purpose is gaining in significance for so many people. I see this in my own work as a coach and also in the growing number of books and articles written on the subject. We all seem to need to feel that our lives have meaning and that our work is an expression of this. So why are so many people dissatisfied and disillusioned in their lives and careers?
Here’s a major reason for this dilemma: we get out of high school and have only barely learned to drive and now we are expected to choose a major, i.e., decide what it is we want to do with our lives. If you think back to this time of your life, you can see how preposterous it is to expect to have the answer to such a momentous question at such a young age.
Granted, there are the fortunate few who have always known what they wanted to do with their lives. But most of us simply choose a major, graduate, and take a job that either relates to that choice or doesn’t. And more often than not, we stay in that job because we don’t think we have other options.
A good question to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”
If the answer is, “Because I’m good at it” rather than “Because I love doing it,” that’s a good clue that you’ve fallen into the gap separating you from a life of meaning and purpose. It’s easy to confuse what you’re good at with what you love to do. The truth is you can be very good at something and really not like doing it.
You can also be good at doing something that isn’t in alignment with your core values. When this happens, you may find yourself caught in the uncomfortable gap between truth and compromise, between who you really are and what you are doing. It’s a painful place to be.
For example, if one of your core values is integrity, being asked to compromise your integrity in the course of your job can lead to dissatisfaction and even despair. On the other hand, designing a career and life that allows you to be a person of integrity will bring a significant sense of well-being.
Who you are is firmly embedded in your core values. Yet most people have never considered what their core values are, let alone articulated them or prioritized them. As a coach, this is one of the first places I start with a client. We mine for those values and we create a list that then becomes a place of reference when the big decisions have to be made.
It’s my experience that under all that stuff we have accumulated — the degrees, the job titles, the various roles we play, and yes, the material stuff — is that gift, that talent, that “thing” that you alone can do, that has heart and meaning for you, and that is in alignment with your core values.
Once you have decided that you’ve had enough of whatever it is you’re doing or the life you are living, then you can start the work of uncovering who you really are and what you truly love. This is not necessarily an easy process. It can take work, courage and a firm commitment to find and live your authentic life. And it takes a lot of support.
Coaches are uniquely qualified to help in this process of self-discovery. We are firmly in your corner. We believe in you and your vision and we tell the truth. We see where you’re tricking yourself and call you on it. We see where your stumbling blocks are and help you to overcome them. And we hold your vision for you when it is tough for you to still see it.
The great poet Rumi said, “Feel yourself being quietly drawn by the deeper pull of what you truly love.” What’s calling you? What’s pulling you out of the gap and into a fulfilling life? The pursuit of your true passion is worth all the effort and courage you can muster to realize it. So “roll up you sleeves, not your dreams!”
“Appreciation draws our eye toward life, stirs our feelings, sets in motion our curiosity, and inspires the envisioned mind.”
—David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney “Appreciative Inquiry”
“Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There’s certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism.
But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off.
Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you’re grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn’t is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It’s a question that could change your life.
Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.
As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.”
In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their “pro-social” motivation.
Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.
Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group).”
There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn’t just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.
Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end.
With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).
Apparently, positive vibes aren’t just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life:
- Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
- Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
- Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.
Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don’t just look better — they actually get better. Thankfulness feels good, it’s good for you and it’s a blessing for the people around you, too. It’s such a win-win-win that I’d say we have cause for gratitude.”
— Ocean Robbins, author, speaker, facilitator, movement builder and father.