Worry is a bandit! Unapprehended, it will pickpocket your happiness and loot your self-confidence. Worry can drain the wells of human emotion, leaving a worrier more vulnerable to stress and health problems, including the ones that may have started the downward spiral of worry in the first place. Happiness, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. Uplifting and liberating, it increases strength and vitality.
Happiness is contagious. Singer and record producer Pharrell Williams showed the infectious power of happiness a few years ago when he rallied people around the world with his Grammy- winning anthem titled “Happy.” And many will recall that 25 years earlier vocalist Bobby McFerrin emphatically told everyone “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” “Do not frown,” he instructed. “Because it brings the whole body down.’’ Makes sense, right?
As it turns out, the deceptively simple ditty is chock-full of scientifically sound advice. For example, brain science continues to shine light on the complex biochemical connection between facial expressions and physical and mental well-being. In his seminal research on nonverbal behavior, psychologist and researcher, Paul Ekman, found that voluntarily producing a smile could actually help generate a psychological shift similar to that of a spontaneous smile.
Shaping the mouth into a smile sparks a chain-reaction in the body that releases endorphins, natural painkillers, and serotonin, say scientists. The more endorphins the brain releases, the better able the body is to fight off illness. Serotonin is a chemical produced by the brain that acts as a natural anti-depressant. According to researchers, smiling ― and laughter, too, for that matter ― can affect a range of human functions such as:
The strength of the immune system
A sense of balance and well-being
Outlook on life
Resilience against stress.
Smiling, of course, is not the cure-all for worry and the unhappiness it generates. But given the cost and its proven therapeutic value ― to say nothing of its power as a communication tool ― its worth developing stronger smiling chops. As the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, celebrated his 90th birthday, he ranked smiling as number six on his top eight lessons on leadership in a Time Magazine. After enduring imprisonment and separation from his family for 27 years, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate obviously had a profound appreciation for smiling's transformative powers, both as an action and a symbol. For the smile-challenged, there are plenty of resources available online these days with techniques such as laughter yoga that can help you on your way to stronger smiling chops.
Just Say No to Worry
The “don’t worry” part of the advice from singers, sages and scientists can be a bit trickier than turning the corners of your mouth upward more often. Anyone who’s ever gone away on vacation but their thoughts are constantly on home, or worse the office, fretting over a gazillion tasks and details, know how difficult it can be to stop the mind from from overthinking. Analyzing and fretting over every piece of minutiae is not only futile, but also depleting.
There's a a reason visionaries, leaders and other effective big-picture problem solvers avoid getting into “the weeds.” Eastern culture has the perfect name for the unending, and unnerving, chatter that happens in a mind full of worry: Monkey Mind. Like drunken monkeys flinging themselves around, jumping and chattering nonstop, the worried mind interferes with the ability to be present and enjoy life in the moment. Prolonged worry builds stress, and has been linked to illnesses such as heart disease.
An alternative to worry is creative thinking. When difficulties arise, choose to avoid worry. Push the pause button and reflect on possible ways to resolve the tough situation. Dare to imagine positive outcomes, and focus on those. Other productive steps you can take include:
Taking confidence in your own competence. Other peoples’ timelines and deadlines, especially at work, can sometimes cause stress and concern. But remember: Worry only has a place when the deadline is unable to be met. Until then, move forward in the confidence that you are more than capable of getting the work done. Use crunch time to draw on the resources around you.
Set your intentions. Affirm your power. Choose to come up with solutions before allowing worry to take over. And don’t forget to smile.
Bonus Self-Reflection Prompts:
1. How do I regain my confidence after allowing worry to overcome me?
2. Which external sources provide me with inspiration to figure out solutions?
3. How do I know if an idea I have has the potential to get me through a challenge?