I’ve read another report of research on the positive effects of smiling. The latest indicates that not only does choosing to smile have a positive effect on those around us, but it actually lowers our own blood pressure and stress hormones–even when the smile is chosen when we don’t feel like it, even when it is totally faked. Researchers found that even when they used chopsticks in the participant’s mouth to create a smile like shape in the mouth, the effects were significant–lower blood pressure, lower stress, greater relaxation.
There are similar studies on the value of practicing Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation of various types, weight training, jogging, walking, gardening, drawing, painting, flower arranging, writing and breath-work. I’m sure I’ve left out some other practices that, when engaged, have positive effects on us and those around us.
The study on smiling reminded me that there are practices that we can choose to engage in that become, if we stick with them, personal harbors of safety, retreat and restoration for us. They are beneficial practices in their own right. In other words, if you choose to take up painting, then paint for the sake of the joy of painting–as with any of these other practices that I’ve listed above. However, there is always this other thing that happens: When I engage an activity that makes me feel safe, becomes a retreat for me, that restores me in some way, it also changes me and how I am as I leave that safe harbor and enter into the rest of the world again.
En-joy-ment chosen for myself actually does take me back out into the world more joyful. Others can see that, feel it, and experience some of it in themselves.
Sometimes, harbor is just that place that saves our lives from the storm that threatens to do us in, and for those harbors, I am always grateful. Very often, though, harbor is that practice and experience of joy that I choose because it helps me, and it makes me a joy-bearer into the world.