Sometimes it’s good to just stop and smile, no matter what’s happening in the world or your life. Scientists who research emotions and the chemicals that carry those feelings throughout our bodies say that smiling can actually lift your mood if you do it right. So even if you don’t feel like smiling, try it. Make it a real smile, one that engages more than just the muscles in your face. Smile with your mouth and then your eyes, and see if you feel lighter.
Even in the most difficult of times, there’s always something to be happy about. We don’t always take the time to look for it because we get so comfortable in our fear or anxiety or gloom that we are afraid to spend the energy to try. I can get trapped in exhaustion, the kind that comes from just making it through another day with the my particular kind of health, and I forget to stop feel joy, or even just a bit of pleasure. So when Janet Riehl of the multi-textural, multi-cultural blog-magazine Riehlife tagged me with the “Happy Meme,” I took it as a signal to check in with myself and see what I’ve got to be happy about.
The meme is deceptively simple: You list six things that make you happy, not necessarily in any order or priority, just the first six that come to mind. (That in itself is not easy: Once you start thinking, you’ll find more than six. If you don’t, it might be good to take a serious look at your life.) Then you “tag” another blogger or two with the meme, to pass it on.
So first, here are six things that make me happy:
1. Sitting next to my husband at the end of a long day, I ask him what he’s thinking. “That I love you,” he replies. (Can’t beat that for bringing a smile to my face and lifting my mood!)
2. The color of the sky as the evening light begins to fade: liquid gold at the horizon turning to rose above and then a dusky sort of lavender which itself melts right into a blue that is so deep it seems to fade seamlessly to black overhead, where the first stars wink on.
3. The smell of sagebrush, the plant that defines my home landscape. It’s a fragrance that once smelled, isn’t easily forgetten, a nose-tingling mix of turpentine and pine pitch, overlaid with sweet notes of honey and spice.
4. The steady presence in my life of family and friends. (Bless you all!)
5. A salad made from sun-warmed leaves of greens just picked from my windowsill garden.
6. Time to write uninterrupted, to follow that “small, still” inner voice wherever it takes me.
Before I do my tagging, I want to consider what “happy” means. It is most commonly used, the dictionary tells me, for “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” That fits my experience: Happiness is not just a transient thing. It can be a current of contentment, a feeling of all being well, or at least one thing being well, a sense not just of being pleased or full of pleasure, but more solidly content.
Sometimes happiness bubbles up in me so quickly that I try to hold on to it, fearing it will escape and be gone, used up, like the fizz in an open bottle of champagne which is flat by the next day. When I do that, I’m forgetting that happiness is also a steady stream—that’s the contentment part. Sometimes I take happiness for granted until it goes away, the way a cloud passing in front of the sun gets your attention with the sudden chill, but you didn’t notice the warmth that preceded it. Sometimes I despair and happiness seems impossibly far away, unlikely to ever return. It is those times when I need to remember what makes me happy the most, and it is those times that remembering is the hardest. I tend to turn to nature then, looking to the shapes of the clouds in the sky or the dapple of moving water, the patterns traced by the stars in a clear night sky, the whoosh of wind, or the buzz of bees working summer flowers. I seek out the company of other lives, wild or human. The touch of a hand, a smile. Sometimes just a smile.
So as I go through my days, I try to share those smiles, and pass on even small moments of happiness. Because you never know when someone else needs a lift
—maybe just a smile.
Thank you, Janet, for prompting me to consider the streams in the river of joy that sustain me.