Let’s take a step back from the controversy, the heartache, and the uneasiness that comes with the issues we may be facing today and take a moment to smile. I’ve often heard people say that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. I’m all about using as few muscles as possible, so let's relax (smile) and learn how this simple action can become an asset in our homes.

My most wonderful adventures have started with smiles. They were the prelude to new friendships I now cherish, the elegant precursor to a truly selfless act of love, the overture to a new season, like those little hands of my newborn niece wrapped around my finger. As Mother Teresa so wisely stated, “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”

For the smile is the beginning of happiness.

The smile or laughter of another person can improve your mood—those who have experienced the uncontrollable giggling of a child know exactly what I mean. The Huffington Post notes that facial expressions, especially smiles are often automatically mimicked by others. Once the expression is imitated, the associated emotion can also be switched on. In short, smiling (even happiness) can be contagious, just like the common cold. When one kid gets the stomach bug, you may rush to quarantine the ill child or else the nauseating cycle miserably continues. However, the epidemic of smiling is one you want to spread and research shows it can spread quickly. Whether we pass the smile to our kids or they pass it to us, the mood in our homes can become elevated rather quickly with the passing of a smile.

For the smile is the beginning of a better day.

I’ll let you in on some anatomical magic: your brain can actually be tricked into being happy simply by smiling. The neurotransmitters released when we smile, like serotonin, are those that are often associated with feelings of happiness.  Some days a grimace can seem more appropriate than a smile, but just fake it ‘til you make it!

A study reported in the Alantic began with participants being asked to perform a stressful task. They did the task with a neutral face, a smile, or with chopsticks in their mouth (forcing a smile). Stress levels were lowered for both natural smiles and forced smiles, compared to those that did not smile at all. Moral of the story: Pull out the chopsticks. Even a fake smile could improve your day. And as an important note, smiling may be particularly important for reducing the daily stress of parents in handling all the daily hassles that come along--raising children is no walk in the park. A fake smile may not directly lead to a great day, but it will likely lead to a better one.

For the smile is the beginning of an abundant life.

Smiling is associated with a number of health benefits and is less expensive then vitamins or other commercial health products you might be enticed to try. Not only can one’s mood be improved and one’s stress lessened, but according to Psychology Today smiling can activate your immune system, lower your blood pressure, relieve pain, improve your lifespan, and act as an antidepressant. So add smiling to your list of goals for the new year. Smiling can lead to enjoying the simple abundance of a healthier lifestyle.

For the smile is the beginning of better relationships.

Smiling draws people to us naturally and helps us look more attractive and self-confident. People need entrances and invitations to feel comfortable becoming closer to us. The smile seems to send those kinds of welcoming invitations that make them willing to converse and to spend more time with us. The genuine smile can set a tone of authenticity that helps people be willing to share their ideas, their concerns, and their life experiences with us. The same can happen in families. A welcome smile by a family member at the end of a rough workday can invite the perspective that maybe someone else is in a place to understand or to help shoulder a burden. These consistent offerings to share time and space—all started with a smile can become a valuable part of the family culture.

For the smile eases hurts and encourages a willingness to try.

Children live in a world where skinning knees and falling off a bike is a part of life. They are stretching and growing. In fact, without taking risks, they might not learn how to do new things. The early failed attempts and the need for the occasional bandage can be met with a smile by an encouraging family member. Just like the way their earliest pictures won’t be Picassos and may qualify mostly as refrigerator art, those attempts still exercise their creativity and help them develop hand-eye coordination and can also be met with a smile. For though the early efforts of a child might seem small, smiles can fuel self-confidence and a willingness to keep trying.

I know a smile will not eliminate world hunger, gun violence, or political unrest. I know a smile will not fix the dysfunctional family many of us feel we have. I know a smile will not lift the unbearable weight of mental and physical illness.

It may not be the solution, but it could be the beginning: the beginning of love, acceptance, friendships, or peace.

When Mother Teresa described the smile as the beginning of love, she had a great point. Smiling is an invitation to greater happiness. It is an invitation for a better day. It is an invitation to a full and abundant life and warm relationships. So when you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, rather than screaming in your pillow or practicing minivan road rage, try to smile. You never know the difference it could make in your life and in the lives of others.

And maybe then, we can make smiling a worldwide epidemic, one home at a time.

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