This afternoon I was driving home; the clock read 4:49. I had a thought: would it kill me to smile for ten minutes without stopping? Then of course I had to. I like to think I can survive anything for ten minutes. And, would you believe it, there were one or two things on my mind, the kind of things I'm convinced are best managed with a decidedly dour face. Which gave the exercise a delicious tinge of risk and perversity.
Some background on smiling. The last time I visited my brother in New York, I had a headache for almost the entire four days. I laughed too much. Apparently, I can't take much laughing at all without getting a headache. Same with smiling, when the smiling is genuine. I get something that feels like a sinus headache plus TMJ, and it lasts for hours.
So I started smiling and didn't stop until 4:59. Time and again, I became worried that I looked like a fang-y, deranged beast, so I'd check in the rearview mirror, find that I looked pretty natural, and laugh. The laughing hurt, but it helped. At 4:59 I did think, "what the heck, I'll go 'til a nice even 5:00," but my face refused. I felt like I used to feel upon crossing the finish line after a marathon: like maybe I did some damage I'll never recover from. Oh, but I'm fine. Shaky and sore (I did some pretty awkward stretches and popped a Sportenine or two) but fine.
I joke about my problems with it (undertrained facial muscles? Psycho-physical malcoördination rearing its head in the face of happiness?) but this smiling stuff is serious.
"If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind."
—Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace is Every Step