My most memorable lessons didn’t come as remarkable revelations, like a thwack upside the head to get my attention. No aha moment. No lightbulb.
It was quiet, like a whisper that my spirit was ready to hear.
While waiting for a friend to join me in a restaurant, I noticed writing on a sugar packet on the table, mixed in with all the others. “Smile, it will free you from the tyranny of wasted thoughts” was neatly printed on it. I did smile at the message at the time, and then set it aside. But it didn’t set me aside. It was like a song in my head that kept repeating. Have you ever brushed away a cobweb but found it clinging to your hand regardless of how you keep trying to shake it off? That phrase clung to me.
I’m by nature a happy person. I always thought I had been blessed with extra endorphins or a double dose of serotonin, or something not of my own doing, just very thankful for it. At that particular time, however, I was brought low by very unfortunate life events. That sugar advice made me ponder how much the words I say to myself contribute to my outlook and how a smile changed the way I thought in that moment. Awareness is such a potent thing. So it caused me to smile more, which often made folks around me smile back. Depressed, defeated thoughts are a tyranny, but a tyranny I can overcome. That revelation started a mini internal revolution.
Later, my smile hypothesis was confirmed when I read about actual research studies on how contrived facial expression and posture contribute to improved mental attitude. That confirmation put a little more steel in my backbone. That, along with my functioning wishbone and funny bone contributed greatly to diminishing wasted thoughts.
Around the same time, I read words often attributed to Gandhi, though I found out much later they weren’t his: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” “Be” implies much more than a simple mindset or way of thinking. You rarely can be one way and do another. I know who I am by what I do (for the Bible tells me so) and I can control what I do. Control, or even just a feeling of control, is the lever that lifts the spirit. It is the antithesis of impotence, victimhood, worthlessness.
These two phrases made me not just feel, but actually know that I had a great deal of control. I feel “being the change” is now my superpower, and the exercise of smiling actually strengthens my resolve in a profound way. And yes, I also leave sugar messages whenever I can.
Kathleen Studer, California
What advice would you like to give to the younger generations?
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