When you need to let yourself smile

Ever since his Spartan cheerleader days, I’ve loved Will Ferrell, but I didn’t realize how much I would come to admire one of the qualities of one of his most childlike characters.

I’m obviously talking about Buddy the Elf’s passion for smiling.

We’re taught at early ages how to smile. I mean, when you’re a little baby, people are constantly smiling at you, and somewhere along the way, you instinctively start smiling back. Then people stick cameras in your face and use that “say cheese” thing, and the smiles just keep coming. Smiles are outward expressions of joy, and they are truly beautiful.

But sometimes those smiles don’t always come so easily.

I’m not a huge fan of crying, and it’s normally not something I do often—though lately I feel like the tears have been a bit too frequent. For many reasons I won’t delve into at this time, life has been tough lately, and sometimes I have moments when I can’t fight back the tears that start piling up at the brims of my eyes.

Smiling is often the best option.

I had one of those instances recently at work, and I really didn’t want to cry at my desk. My sweet friend Bonnie had texted me to check on me (she knew I was having a bad day), and I told her I was on the verge of tears. She offered to meet me in a bathroom where we wouldn’t see any of our coworkers, and she stood there with me while I let Niagara Falls invade my face, and she listened as I aired my grievances—and God bless her, because I say some pretty ridiculous things when I’m crying.

After a little while, I looked at myself in the mirror and told her I couldn’t go back to work looking like I did. (When I cry, my eyes turn a super deep almost emerald blue color, and my face is SO splotchy.) And then she told me I needed to smile—whether I wanted to look in the mirror and smile or go stand in a bathroom stall and stare at the door, I simply needed to smile for about a minute. She said doing so would make the rest of me start to believe I wasn’t so sad, and I wouldn’t look like I’d been crying as much.

Have you ever tried looking at yourself in the mirror and forcing yourself to smile when it’s the last thing you want to do? It’s so awkward. Thankfully, Bonnie said something to make me laugh, and so the smile actually became real. And she was right, too—I went back to my desk without anyone noticing that I had just ugly cried moments before.

A couple of days later, I was in spin class, and the instructor kept reminding us to smile and that it would help us remember that what we were doing was actually fun. Most of the time when I’m in this type of class, I’m just trying to figure out the whole beat thing. It’s one of those classes in which you ride to the beat of the music, which is not my forte—I’m used to dancing freestyle with zero concern of beat or rhythm. But, I must say, that smiling tactic of his really helped. It turned out to be the most fun class I’ve ever taken.

I suppose I needed one more reminder about the importance of smiling. Joni Eareckson Tada was a guest speaker at church over the weekend, and she mentioned how she makes herself smile every morning before facing the day to help set the right attitude from the start.

I guess smiling is a lot more effective than we think it is.

For years now, I’ve tried to incorporate smiling into my running. I always try to remind myself of my mantra of “one smile per mile,” which truly helps me enjoy running even when it hurts. I do this especially in races, and it really does give me more of a positive perspective about even the most grueling miles. Sure, I probably look like a complete idiot when I’m smiling to no one, but I also get to smile to people in passing, which makes me even happier. Smiling isn’t just good for us—a simple smile truly can lift someone’s spirits more than we’ll ever know.

I realize that smiling can’t get rid of our pain, and it doesn’t make all of our problems go away, but sometimes it somehow helps. Maybe it sends some secret message from our heads to our hearts that says, “Hey, true joy is possible, and don’t you ever forget it.” Life is often difficult, and it’s going to throw stuff our way that we really don’t want, and probably the last thing we will want to do is smile. But when you find those moments when you can choose to put a smile on your face—even if only for a second or two—it really might help. It won’t solve everything, but it can force you to wipe the tears off of your face and march back up to your desk to take on everything else that comes your way that day.

We get to decide how we react to the situations we face. Sure, we’re going to encounter hurts and frustrations and sorrow and anger and stress and pain and regret and bitterness and a countless amount of other negative emotions—but we can’t stay wrapped up in those forever. Eventually, we have to walk away from those with courage that we never knew we had.

And sometimes bravery comes in the form of a smile.

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About Natalie

I love sports and romcoms. Two very important truths: Anything matches if you wear it with confidence, and there is never a wrong time to eat froyo.
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