“How can you smile at a time like this?” Basically, that’s the paraphrased version of a common query. My other blog holds the long list of what wasn’t working for a few years: dwindled portfolio, struggling business, over a year of looking for a job, and a house that wouldn’t sell. I spent years as an aerospace engineer. My backup plans have backup plans. But, it wasn’t the backup plans that inspired the comments and compliments and confusion. It was lessons and tools that I learned while walking across Scotland. Let’s start the new year by talking about one – Grin Smile Laugh. Hmm, sounds like another book title.
Go for a long walk and it is easy to find lots of elbowroom and places where no one can hear or see you. There’s a lot of that between the towns of Scotland. The green spaces beyond the city limits are pleasant and empty. Of course, that’s relaxing; but, it wasn’t until I’d spent days walking there that I finally relaxed enough to see it as an emotional playground. Have you read the book? (If so, please post a review. If not, now’s a great time to buy your copy.)
I started out stressed and grumpy, and in need of a vacation. For those first few days, hills, rain, mud, and wind didn’t help my mood. But they did begin to break me free from stoicism. They gave me more than enough to complain about, and so I did – after a while. A few days later I noticed myself loosening up, but was disappointed that it happened while complaining. Where’s the fun in that? So, wait a minute. Not every one of those grumpy moods was from a major annoyance. Sometimes it was just that “one more thing that went wrong” that was actually quite minor. A minor annoyance would be rewarded with an honest grump, and I let my emotions run free as they expressed themselves. I emoted. That was actually a breakthrough, but not the one I expected.
The mathematician in me always wonders what happens if a sign gets flipped in an equation. Change the sign and a negative becomes a positive. So, why couldn’t I play with my emotions that way? What did I have to lose?
Here’s an excerpt that some readers skimmed over.
“My mood improved because I ran an experiment. I’d feel a smile on my face, not be sure where it came from, and rather than doubt it and turn it off, I’d smile for the sake of smiling. A smile could turn into a chuckle and a laugh and, as long as I stopped before hysteria, I’d found that I’d enjoyed a bit more of the day.”
It worked, and not just during a walk. It is a simple tool that I apply anytime.
There are always enough things to complain about. And complaining usually doesn’t do anything except vent frustrations. That is valuable. I lived for years keeping that all inside. Storing such toxic thoughts inside a body is a bad idea. Let it out – within reason.
There are always enough things to be happy about. It is easy to forget that after a phone call from the mortgage company, or after a stock drops yet again, or after yet another student cancels a class.
But amidst every moment of the day, even while walking across Scotland’s fields in the rain, there are things to celebrate. The view, the solitude, the freedom to say or do whatever I want, the sound a bird makes, or the splash of my boots in a puddle (that didn’t soak my socks), the funny way the sheep would take time looking at me before deciding to run away. I found myself grinning and latched onto that. If it was worth a grin, is it worth a smile? If it is worth a smile, is it worth a chuckle? If it is worth a chuckle, is it worth a laugh? Don’t think it through; do it, try it, and see how it feels.
I smile a lot more now. My portfolio dropped over 80% yet again in 2012. I wasn’t hired (usually because I was over-qualified). My house didn’t sell. Do you want to hear the rest of the list? Nah. Yet, I smile a lot more. I smile so much more that people mention it and wonder how I manage it. (Unemployed With Style) I just laughed at myself while typing because I am sitting in the only house that has ever felt like home, my stomach is gurgling as it digests the lentil soup made from Christmas leftovers, the heating system is ticking away keeping me warm, and I’ve got a glass of wine beside me. Is it the alcohol? That’s a laugh. I poured myself a glass for dinner, and have barely sipped it. Pardon me as I feel compelled to take another sip. I laugh, or at least smile, at my super-cautious nature. No, evidently, I haven’t drunk too much. That’s worth a smile. That’s worth a laugh. It is all worth celebrating.
Could I have learned how to smile some other way? Of course. Folks have commented on my smile for years, but these smiles are more precious because I feel them from the inside and because I know who made them. Me. And that makes me smile, and chuckle a bit.