LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile

The smile—you know, that infant giggle that brings joy to a mother’s heart, the hearty laughter of a child telling silly jokes, that elusive expression that goes into hiding through the teen years, the “raucous guffaw” of the adult watching comedy. We love to smile…and laugh. A recent review of a study on smiling and chopsticks made me smile. The researcher had three groups of subjects, each biting a pair of chopsticks to elicit a different face. Specifically, one group bit the chopsticks to stimulate the facial muscles of a fake smile, one to elicit a neutral face, and one to stimulate the muscles of a genuine smile (who thinks this stuff up?). While holding the chopsticks in their mouth, the subjects traced a star, trying to stay within the lines, with their non-dominant hand. Whenever they drew “outside the lines” a loud and annoying buzzer sounded, producing stress. Researchers monitored the subjects’ hearts rates during this task. After the heart rates spiked due to the stress of the loud buzzer, those who “wore a genuine smile” recovered a more relaxed heart rate more quickly than the other two groups. They recovered from the stress more quickly. Smiling enhances heart health. (Read the article here) I just have to smile…I mean, who would think of biting chopsticks and smiling? I guess the Chinese have known it all along-they train people to smile with chopsticks according to this brief article.
Anyway, I decided I’m going on safari this year. I have two teenage daughters (the elusive smile is often in hiding) and various stressors that I believe are more significant than whether I stay within the lines while tracing a star (don’t we all?). If using chopsticks to stimulate the muscles of a genuine smiling can help shorten recovery from stress and benefit the heart, maybe learning to genuinely laugh and smile on a regular basis can help my whole family manage stress and even build some fun into the family. With that in mind, I am in search of “the stuff of smiles.” I am on safari for the elusive smile producers. I have a couple of ideas to set the stage for effectively eliciting genuine smiles on the face of our family.
First, I hope to create a family environment that will encourage smiling. That is, everyone needs to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can find acceptance in our home. Accept family members, smiles or not. Let it be known that mistakes are accepted… and allowed. In fact, learn to enjoy the humor in a simple mistake. Model smiling at your own mistakes.
Second, bring opportunities for smiling into your home. Play games just for fun. Who cares who wins…just have fun. Tell jokes. Get a book of silly jokes. Look up some jokes on the internet (Ducksters is a fun sight for jokes for younger children). Tell funny stories from your own childhood. My kids love to hear about the day I fell into the baptistery or ate a worm to impress a girl (yes, I know…not a smart move on my part). Watch a funny movie. Do whatever it takes to find that smile in your family and enjoy it.
Some of my favorite family times include my family laughing hysterically, tears rolling down our eyes, unable to even speak because we are laughing so hard. Sometimes I end up laughing just because my wife and daughter are laughing so hard. Remembering those times, I realize it is true… stress is relieved when we laugh. A fresh spirit of revival enters the home during a season of laughter. Oh yeah, I am on safari for the elusive smile this year. You’ll know if you see my family…they’ll be the ones with a smile on their face (even without biting on a chopstick)!

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