Smiling lessons recommended

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, January 9, 2016

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My name is Joy.

I cannot count the number of times I have been told “You’re not living up to your name,” or “Joy, you’re not being very joyful.”

This is usually followed with the person enjoying a little chuckle in appreciation of their clever wordplay. As far as they know, they’re the first to ever be so clever as to come up with that.

I never had the nerve to ask, but I always wondered: if I appeared to be in a bad mood, did they think a comment on how I’m not measuring up to a pun on my name would bring me to a happy place?

It never cheered me up.

I did ocassionally respond sarcastically with, “It’s funny you should say that because I’ve noticed that you’re really not acting very Megan-ful today.” (Name chosen because I don’t know anyone named Megan.)

They weren’t wrong that I didn’t look joyful. I wasn’t.

I spent most of my life thinking there wasn’t much to be joyful about. There are reasons for this, but it’s too much to get into here. I’ve got other things I want to tell you today. Please take my word for it. I spent most of my life up to my late 30s in varying states of rage.

I tried to mask it, but my experience is that anger, when stopped from coming out directly, comes out sideways. So, I was angry and it showed.

But things changed. A number of years ago, I turned my attention to the mirror and started working on what I saw there that I didn’t like. My life got better. Then better than that. And again better still. Year by year my life improved and continues to do so as I continue working on the mirror image.

My default mood went from being surly to serene. I rarely heard comments about not being joyful enough anymore. I was much more likely to hear that my name suited me (which I still find ironic when I hear it).

I came to a place where I had plenty to be joyful about and to this day, I feel consistently joyful more often than I don’t. But the habits of a lifetime were affecting my demeanor, and I still looked unhappy.

I had no idea that dancing was going to give me what I needed to allow my outward demeanor to reflect my internal happiness.

I love to dance. I’ve been learning ballroom and swing dancing for about four years now.

I went to a New Year’s Eve dance three years ago and had a marvelous time. But I later saw a picture of myself on Facebook dancing with a fellow I dance with frequently. I love dancing with him, but I’m frowning in the photo.

I looked at that and thought, “Now, I know I was having fun there.” My frown was probably stemming from concentration because dancing is hard, but I didn’t like the frown because it didn’t convey how I was feeling at the time. My outsides did not match my insides.

So, I implemented Operation Smile. I talked to my dance teacher about it. If you ever watch professional dancers, they’re smiling. All the time. So I asked her for smiling tips. She said to keep my mouth slightly open at all times, because this softens the face, even if not actually smiling. But the main thing is to practice smiling whenever possible. Get used to it.

So, I smiled whenever I thought about it. I smiled while jogging. I smiled while driving, while doing housework and any other activity that allowed for some amount of my energy to go toward smile practice.

I especially worked on smiling while dancing. If I was dancing with a leader who was pretty new and thus not posing much of a challenge, I used my extra mental energy to practice smiling.

You know, it worked. I began to be a smiler, and not just while dancing.

I understood just how thoroughly smile practice changed my demeanor when I got a new driver’s license photo. I’m a notorious frowner in these things. I got a license photo in 2012 when I was in the midst of my transformation, but not yet working on my smile. When I first saw the 2012 picture, I thought, “Oh good, I’m smiling.” Looking back at it, I was not smiling, but it looked less like a mug shot than previous licenses.

I had to get another new license photo in late 2014. This was after Operation Smile had been going on for a while. When I saw that picture, I laughed out loud. The difference is incredible. I must assure you that in both images, I was trying to smile.

I’ve heard it said that right thinking follows right action, and I’m a believer. By practicing smiling whenever I thought about it, I made it easier and easier to smile. And as I smile more, my mood lifts. It turns out I don’t have to mean it at first. If I do it enough, I’ll come to mean it. Smiling brought me to a place where I finally fit better into my name.

On the joy-pun front, I still get them, but they aren’t about my not measuring up anymore.

Today, I most frequently hear (because I dance a lot): “It was a joy to dance with you.” (They still act highly amused by their own cleverness, by the way.)

My response: “Thank you. I enjoyed dancing with you, too.” Much much better.

Joy Carrico is a graphic designer at the Messenger and she’s really happy about it.

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