First and foremost, of course, is the pandemic. Since last March the world has been fighting a deadly battle with COVID 19 — a disease that is still poorly understood, extremely contagious, and can often be deadly, especially to the elderly and those with secondary health issues.
Scientists and governments keep promising that a vaccine for this scourge is going to be ready soon. But how soon? And how expensive will it be? And how available is it going to be?
These are questions no one has the answer to yet, and it is putting wrinkle lines on just about everyone’s face.
This longlasting pandemic has created a world-wide financial and economic crisis that has affected nearly everyone on the planet. Millions have lost their livelihoods. Many have lost their homes. And many, far too many, are going hungry — and going without many of the basic necessities we take for granted.
Borders are closed; nations are more suspicious of one another than ever before; and virtually no one is predicting a happy outcome from the pandemic. Or just how bad our mental health is going to suffer from the continuing social isolation.
Not to mention that flu season is coming up and global warming continues to play havoc with the weather!
So there’s every reason in the world to feel gloomy and to go around frowning all the time.
Only crazy people put on a smile when things are THIS bad, right?
Well, wait just wait a minute . . .
Researchers over the past fifty years have done some interesting social experiments that demonstrate that a simple adage has more truth and power in it than anyone ever thought.
“Let a smile be your umbrella.”
That’s pretty corny, sure. But scientists now believe that actually will your facial muscles form a smile has a direct effect on your mood. That’s not to say that by simply smiling all your mental distress and resulting physical distress is going to magically disappear and you’ll go skipping merrily down the highway of life shouting for joy. Not at all. What it does mean, however, is that by using our facial muscles to form a smile we can actually prevent ourselves from going deeper into depression and can sometimes actually lighten the burdens we are currently feeling.
It’s a psychological idea that people in all walks of life use, from a child’s first visit to a dentist to seasoned veterans of life.
For instance, professional receptionists are trained from the get-go to smile while they’re on the phone, and especially to smile when they first greet the caller and when they say goodbye to the caller. That’s because researchers found out long ago that people on the other end of the line can actually tell when you’re smiling or not on the phone. You don’t necessarily have to feel happy while you smile on the phone — in fact you may be nursing a headache or find yourself wishing the caller would be run over by a bus — but the simple act of smiling communicates itself to the listener, and he or she will often then respond positively to the perceived positive attitude of the person they’re talking to.
To take it one step further; when you place a smile on your face when you don’t feel like smiling at all will actually help stifle feelings of remorse, anger, fear, and sadness. Research shows there is a subtle link between the muscles that control the smile and the brain receptors that control the emotions. Again, an old adage pretty much sums it up — ‘Fake it till you make it.’ force yourself to smile during unpleasant experiences at work, with a frustrated client or vendor, or during a long and boring staff meeting, and your brain will be tricked into thinking there might be something pleasant going on, so why not get some of the happy receptors working overtime?
This, of course, is an oversimplification of what scientists and psychologists have been studying for years, but all the layperson really needs to know is that smiling is a valid and effective means of staving off inefficient and debilitating feelings and emotions that can interfere with work and with family relations.
There’s really a very simple way to test this out for yourself. Simply wait until the next time you’re in an unpleasant situation or involved in an unpleasant phone call. As you feel your tensions and stress rising, make the conscious effort to smile a little. Not an idiotic grin, of course; but a simple lifting of the lips into a positive curve — and then gauge how that begins to make you feel and how it makes the person you’re interacting with feel. Is there any change for the better? According to all the research done in the past half century, it will make a positive, if slight, difference in nine times out of ten!