Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile

While Nazi bombs were dropping, my grandmother had to smile. While bits of the crumbling ceiling were falling on her and my newborn mother, she had to smile. See, my mother would cry whenever grandma frowned, so she smiled for the sake of her child's happiness, though she didn't know whether she had another minute to live.

After the Nazis took Athens, Greece, my family knew starvation. Grandma told me what a terrible thing it was when they had to kill their egg-laying chicken because the eggs weren't enough. They ate that day, but had no more eggs. And in this situation, she understood the importance of a positive demeanor.

But now we sit in relative comfort in front of computers, or with phones in hand, and may have lost touch with the basics of necessity. How many of us mistake self-indulgence in demeanor for honesty? Maybe Mickey... eh... Fox... can inspire the us all to think otherwise...

Have you ever been trying to enjoy a steak and someone starts describing factory farms to you? Ye-e-e-e-s, that was me at one time. The steak-eater, I mean. The rude vegetarian is cited far too often as a reason to become carnivorous. Sometimes it seems as if vegetarianism is just an excuse to be rude for some people, because if they believed in the cause, they'd recognize that effective expression should replace emotional outpouring.

If you do actually believe that it's bad to kill animals, then a rude vegetarian is doing bad by turning people off, and therefore possibly increasing the number of animal deaths. All it takes is a little circumspection, the tiniest crumb of self-control.

Self indulgence is not self expression. If you're in China, you don't speak English because you feel like it. You choose the language that will convey what you have to express, or at least I hope you do. You never know with American tourists, though, and look at the country's reputation with much of the rest of the world.

And you're expressing something deeper too, consideration for others. Consideration is a mighty power in society, and yes, it's a more effective way of getting what you need. A lot of great principles and precepts of behavior are actually highly practical, just not obviously so when you're used to thinking in terms of instant gratification. If you insist on always doing what you want to do when with friends, you may get your way, but you'll end up losing your friends, then you're not doing anything with anybody. Not very effective in the end.

It's the same with huge, crisis-spurring companies. Are you causing a Great Recession in your life?

Don't ask me, ask Dr. Mark Stibich, a man who's traveled the world researching the impact of lifestyle and attitude on health. Smiling relieves stress he says, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. It also releases endorphins, Mother Nature's little drug treat for those who do what's best for them. It's also been shown that people who smile get promoted more often because they seem more sucessful already. Do I really even have to mention that when people like you, they'll do more for you?

Nobody wants to do anything for an Eeyore, no matter how comfy moping may seem. We're social animals. You can't do this life thing on your own. You have to give in order to get.

And what sort of instinctive meaning does a smile have if it could change my infant mother's attitude in an instant?  Is it really so difficult to make the small effort just for the sake of making the world a slightly better place, for the sake of making someone's day a little better? Do you really need justification to do something good? That's when you get into the highest values.

How is it dishonest to express an interest in any of these things over a passing mood? How hard is it to smile when you're not overwhelmed by the urge to do so? It's a question of self awareness in action, not honesty. If you don't want anything to do with a little self control for the sake of your own happiness, may God, or G-d, or Allah, or Brahman, or Wakan Tanka, or Bertrand Russell, or whoever, have mercy on your soul, or lack of same.

So smile, darn ya! Smile! :-D

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