Life consists of perceived ups and downs. The meaning we give to events determines our mood and thus the quality of our lives. No one can always be happy. In fact, it may not be our ultimate goal. Only after we walked through valleys, we can fully appreciate the peaks of our existence – in the present moment and in hindsight. Highs require lows and vice versa. Hence, satisfaction is a relative phenomenon. There’s one key behavior to soften the dips though: Smiling.

(Don’t) let it go to your heart

I allowed many events to pull me down: Accidents, diseases, challenges at school, university and work, relatives passing away as well as break-ups with loved ones. Surely, you experienced similar challenges. What actually happened in these moments? We generated negative feelings. Sadness, disappointment, depression. Now, you might argue that the expression of those is important for your emotional hygiene and personal growth. And I agree. To a certain extent. There’s a thin line between

  1. Superficial Ignorance: You just disregard or repress your own feelings and thus prevent yourself from growing emotionally, getting to know and coming into terms with yourself
  2. Toxic Long Suffering: You fall into and spend too much time in a deep hole, which hurts you mentally, emotionally and physically in the long run.

This sweet-spot, on which you learn from suffering (since it offers the greatest opportunities) but avoid falling into the vicious circle of sadness needs to be determined individually. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for how to cope with events and deal with your feelings in different situations. At least I cannot provide any, since I’m neither a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Everything I’m writing and talking about is based on my own experiences, which taught me one thing though:

Smiling helps to cope with negativity

This is not new. Researchers found out that smiling lowers stress and anxiety, releases endorphins and thus strengthens your immune system. It also makes you more confident, approachable, attractive and is above all contagious. Instead of bothering you with these discoveries, which you can read on every self-help page since a decade, let’s make it actionable. Many of us absorb similar small shots of awe every day but never execute upon them. Knowledge without application is useless.

How you make smiling a daily habit?

I’m on my journey to become a “master of smiling”. Still searching for the appropriate occasions, dose and behavioral mix. Here’re my take-aways:

  1. Observe and accept your inner processes: Learn to listen to yourself. Due to the requirements of my daily life, I became a heady person. Thankfully, I learned to observe my thoughts but still have challenges to deal with my feelings. However, if your chatterbox talks destructively or you feel dissatisfied with yourself or other people (latter is only an indirect expression of former), hold still. Negativity indicates that something is wrong with your self-image and thus attitudes. It’s ok to be in a bad mood. We all have negative thoughts and feelings every day. One of our tasks in life is to deal with them constructively. Hence, first accept them. They’re part of your inner processes repertoire. You’re a healthy and complete human being. However, take an inner step back and observe them. Check why you’re thinking or feeling the way you do. What triggered it? Awareness and recognition are always the first step to change behavioral patterns.
  2. Smile whenever appropriate: Once negative thoughts and feelings creep up in you, force yourself to smile. Not because they vanish straightaway but it lifts you up to a relaxed state of mind and helps you to step back as mentioned above. Smiling effectually requires awareness and practice. Fake it until you feel better. Yet beware: Some people might get irritated if you smile whilst you’re arguing with them as you might come across as someone who doesn’t take them or the topic serious. I learned this the hard way. In those situations you want to engage in alternate behaviors like deep breathing. It too lowers your stress level and thus enables you to cope with difficult human interactions.
  3. Become an inner Aikido master: Aikido is a Japanese martial art, in which one channels the opponent’s energy to end a fight. Mind someone running towards you in rage and you just redirect the physical force by putting him on the ground. You can apply this principle to your inner processes by leveraging embodiment. Embodiment describes our capabilities to combat unwanted inner processes with physical actions, like smiling. There’re a couple of supporting behaviors I found functional to deal with negative inner processes. Next to smiling and deep breathing, I recommend you to take a walk when you’re feeling down – especially outside with exposure to sunlight and fresh air. Physical motion triggers mental flexibility and thus helps you to think about solutions creatively. Sunlight raises your mood and fresh air provides oxygen, which supports the ideation process. In addition, you can put your hands up, which improves your self-esteem and thus mood. Actually every physical action, which makes you larger in terms of height or width increases your self-confidence. That’s a heritage from your ancestors and can be observed in the animal kingdom. Mind your social environment to avoid being perceived as a freak though.