It All Begins With A Smile:
Finding Moments Of Joy In The Tough Times
We will all go through tough times in life. This is something that I know all too well myself. But I’ve recently spent some time with a wise woman (something we all should do) and I’ve learnt there are things we can do to ground and centre ourselves when tough times are upon us. It’s all about finding slivers of joy in life.
Like it or not, there are things in life that are certain. We don’t know how long we will be on this earth. We don’t know what the future holds. And we don’t know when someone close to us will leave us. In fact, there are many things we don’t have control over.
We can’t control the weather (no matter how good your rain dance is). And we sure can’t control our family or loved ones, however much we try! It can feel overwhelming to think of all the things that are out of our control. But when it comes to looking after ourselves, it’s more important to focus on the things we can control, these are our thoughts, our feelings and our actions.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Create slivers of joy daily to anchor your body and mind in the present moment.
When Life Throws You A Curve Ball
This wise woman is my older sister Sarah (although we often get mistaken for twins). She is 41 (sorry Sarah!) and last November she was diagnosed with highly aggressive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer). Within two months of diagnosis, she was whipped in for surgery to remove and reconstruct her breast. After a 9 hour surgery and 1 month into her 5 months of recovery, we anxiously waited to hear if she would also need chemotherapy. Just recently we got the verdict that Sarah would undergo chemo.
Each day, people’s lives are thrown into turmoil by cancer. Hearing what my sister was facing was a big curve ball for me. But how she chose to look at her battle is something that has had a huge impact on me. When facing surgery, treatment and a major illness, Sarah has chosen to find slivers of joy in each day.
Just a few days after surgery, Sarah was able to walk from her bed to the ‘chair of doom’ (as she so aptly named it). It was painful but she did it. The success of getting to that chair was a sliver of joy for her, even if it was mixed with tears. Not everyone would view this milestone as joyful, but it is up to us how we interpret what is going on in our world.
We all need to find a way to create happiness daily. Some more extreme than others, as Sarah has shown us. She decided to bring home Mischa, a Chow Chow puppy. Quite an undertaking for someone about to start 3 months of chemo. But on the upside, Mischa has been a constant source of joy for Sarah and her children. I wouldn’t recommend this for everybody, but for Sarah and the family, Mischa is perfect and much needed.
The Small Stuff
Don’t get me wrong, the small stuff is important. Because it often adds up to the big stuff. Just try ignoring a “small” phone bill and see how long it takes before it becomes a big problem. Small stuff can still create an emotional reaction that affects our body (Learn more about how stress impacts our body. Small stuff all adds up and it can push our nervous system to boiling point. Ever felt the stress rising when you’re stuck in traffic? How about when the kids are crying or you’re getting your house ready to sell? When you’re having a fight with your boss or spouse, forgotten where you put the keys or reading about a world disaster in the news. Sound familiar?
Half the time we are disconnected from what our body and mind is feeling and our primitive brain has hijacked the system. Our brain goes back to the primitive survival response when it is under stress. We begin to breathe too fast and unevenly and from the upper chest. This is when you’re in the ‘red zone’. There are times in life when you have a legitimate reason to be in the red zone, perhaps when a loved one is critically ill. But our bodies are not designed to stay in the ‘red zone’. The key is being aware that we’re in “Ugly” stress mode and work on bringing our body back to calm.
Call me a geek, but I think the brain is such an amazing thing. It is one big sophisticated computer. It is constantly accessing information and creating feedback loops to detect what’s happening in our external environment and internally in our body. It sends out chemical messengers around the body and brain, stimulating a cascade of reactions. Our brain relies on a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters (think of them as your brain’s postal service) like serotonin (makes us feel good about ourselves), dopamine (happy hormone that fires off pleasure and memory centres of the brain), melatonin (regulates sleep), oxytocin (the love hormone), and endorphin (great for pain relief) to trigger a happy experience. But it’s not all about the chemicals. When it comes to happiness, 50% is determined by our genetics and 10% by our circumstances. Surprise, surprise the other 40% is made up of things that we can control; our behaviours, thoughts and actions.
Make Your Smile Contagious
Take a look at the picture above. How does your face react? Science has shown that when we see someone smiling we will try to copy it to help us interpret what the smile means. All the pictures above show genuine smiles as each person is using the orbicularis oculi eye muscle (the circle muscle around the eye that makes us smile from the eyes). Smiling releases a mix of endorphins and serotonin, which lights up the happy centres in our brain. The benefits of smiling go on and on. When people see you smiling, they want to hang around you. They want to hire you, and a prospective love interest will see you as more attractive.
Now here’s the kicker. When you release all these happy hormones, you actually reduce the amount of stress hormones your body releases. That, in turn, decreases your flight or fight stress response. It becomes easier for your body to rest (have a better sleep), digest (process food and not put on weight) and recover (have an effective immune response).
How To Create Slivers Of Joy In Your Day
I don’t expect that every day you are going to feel like Little Miss Sunshine. I sure don’t. Our hormones and natural rhythm fluctuations mean that we will never be perfectly balanced! But what I do know is that we can all create a shift in perspective that brings us into the present moment. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for finding slivers of joy but I will share with you my top 5. Hopefully, you’ll find some techniques for shifting your mood and releasing happy hormones when you need it most.
It’s all about people. As humans, we are designed to live in communities and support and nurture each other. For women particularly our stress response is decreased when we are around other women. Spending time with loved ones, cuddling and being affectionate releases oxytocin, our cuddle hormone. It makes me all warm and fuzzy to think that we can make someone else happy just be showing them affection.
Have you ever danced like a crazy person? Really danced like no one is watching? If you want to explore how your body moves and shift your mood into a happy place, I recommend you try ecstatic dance (also know as Five Rhythms . While it isn’t for everyone, the natural endorphins that are released from ecstatic dancing can be addictive for many!
If you’re like me and a young family means you are time poor, then why not hold an ecstatic party in your living room with the kids? Crank the stereo, put on some great tunes and “Shake It Off”, as Taylor Swift would say.
Whether you live in a concrete jungle or are surrounded by national parks like I do, you can find beauty in the smallest of things. Go for a walk, find a plant, look at how the leaves blow in the breeze. Notice how your breathing slows. Stop and sit on a bench and feel the wind, hear the sounds of where you are and be drawn into the present moment. If you can’t get into nature during your busy work week, become a weekend warrior and explore nature on your days off.
It has been hammered into us that exercise is good for us but how many of us make it a daily habit? Exercise releases endorphins as well as serotonin. How about you set a goal (your brain loves goals) and make a 30 day challenge to walk every day for 30 minutes. No matter what the weather. I love wearing my Spire while I exercise, as it tracks my activity and reminds me to get moving when I have been sitting for too long. Sometimes we all need a gentle nudge to get us off our glutes and away from the computer.
- Laughter: It’s not only exercise that releases endorphins, but also laughter. Surround yourself with people that make you laugh, watch funny videos or put on a romantic comedy. Anything that will get your tummy giggling with guffaws. For me, my slivers of joy are during moments of closeness with my two children. It’s a joke or a story that they share and the laughter that follows. Just recently my 6 year-old, Baxter, came home from school with a new joke. “Mum, what is a bunny rabbit’s favourite type of music?”, he proudly asked. “What?” I ask. “Hippity Hop!” At this, Baxter cracked himself up and his belly laughs were infectious. It was definitely a sliver of joy moment.
"Make your smile contagious. Smile, even when you don’t feel like it, and you can change how you feel and how the people around you feel."
As I watch and support my sister through one of the biggest curve balls of all, I encourage you all to think about how you could create joy in someone else’s life? If we can breathe, think and move, we have the ability to create joy. Whether it’s for ourselves or for others, it is just as important. I would love to see a plague of smiling cause an outbreak of happiness all around the world. Do you think we can do it?
What Gives You Joy?
Emma Ferris is known as a breathing guru. She’s also called wellness nut, entrepreneur and a woman on a mission. Drawing on a 12-year career in physiotherapy, as well as expertise in pilates, acupuncture and stress management, Emma Ferris is teaching the world to find their calm and stress less at The Butterfly Effect.