Choose Joy Part 4

Smile More Often

I’ve been a little confused on how to best organize this series because all the things that I do to choose joy overlap a lot. But smiling more often is the one I am practicing most today so it feels appropriate.

Here’s what I’ve got going on this morning. We are expanding the mud room on our house to be an all seasons space with a locker/cubby area for all our coats and shoes. I’m very excited about adding this space to our tiny house. Yesterday some guys came out to dig the new foundation. Bright and early this morning a guy came out to take out and cap off a couple obsolete lines and mistakenly took out two feet of our 100 year old sewer line. I figured this out after starting a load of laundry with all the scout uniforms my family needs for tonight’s meeting and noticing it draining into the foundation ditch. So this little *adventure* on top of an unusually crabby 11 year old could have easily ruined my day. But, after my initial reaction, I am still smiling. Why? Because science!

Here’s the fun part. Studies have found that when the unique combination of muscles used to smile are engaged your brain releases feel-good endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Endorphins work similarly to opioids in reducing pain and stress. Endorphins give you a natural high. Dopamine helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. Serotonin plays a factor not only in mood, but also blood clotting, bone density, digestion, and sexual function. So even a half-hearted, weary smile helps to make you feel better, physically and emotionally.

But it goes even further than that. When someone else, like a very apologetic contractor, sees you smiling their body’s natural response is to smile back. So they get a little burst of good stuff and your smile becomes more sincere in response to their smile, so you get an extra burst of awesome hormones too! And then the apologetic contractor can focus on fixing the sewer line quickly and you can focus on getting to work on your blog.

This isn’t to say that you can just smile all your “negative emotions” away. All emotions are valid and need to be processed for good metal health. But the hormones released by smiling can help with that process and help you to control your behavioral response to your emotions. This is why simple things like cultivating a joyful environment and doing more of what makes you happy are so important. Having little things tucked into your day that make you smile, even if the world feels like it is falling apart, will help you to put your world back together again.

Learn more about the power of a smile:

See the Series

And always remember that none of this is a substitute for proper medical care. Please seek professional help for issues with depression and anxiety.

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