Seriously, I dare you. I did it for an afternoon while running around buying things like groceries, hand soap, and plant dirt. I was in a crap mood. It was because I just lost my vacation to illness. OK, that’s not true, it just sounded like a good reason to be grumpy. Truth is, I can’t remember why I was feeling like a pile of sour laundry. As I stood in line at HomeGoods, a baby peek-a-booed at me from behind her mother’s shoulder. I almost played along, but then I remembered I was pissed off, so I didn’t return the smile.
Not smiling at a baby felt like eating mustard on pancakes. It was visceral, then cerebral cognitive dissonance. The response got me so curious that I forgot about my personal pity party. I continued to the grocery store and garden store on a mission, an experiment of sorts. I looked at babies every chance I got, but I didn’t smile.
I just looked at them as if they were rocks.
It took restraint as the afternoon slipped by. And that is what the findings of my experiment produced: The afternoon slipped by, never to be recouped, and all I had to show for it was broccoli, quinoa, lavender soap, and enough dirt to bury my secrets.
Certain experiences naturally produce a smile with zero intention. Like babies and puppies right? When we see a baby, we assume innocence, curiosity, openness; and if rejected, we never take it personally. Smiling at babies taps into the very best of what we have to offer to the world. It brings out our sense of wonder, the part of us who loves fearlessly and is wholly without judgment.
We communicate these emotions without any intention. We don’t grin, smirk, simper, or sneer. We smile – the deep, true Duchenne smile.
The Duchenne smile is the most authentic facial expression of joy. Because of my daughter Caroline’s cognitive decline, she is often less filtered than your average Southern woman. So, when she sees a baby or a puppy, not only does she smile, she releases an audible sound of uncensored delight. She smiles from her soul and lets out an “ooohhh” that makes me smile even as I write this.
When we see a soft bundle of slobber and poop, we get a split-second reminder of our capacity to love, and we reciprocate with a smile. When we smile with authenticity we get an instant hit of dopamine, serotonin, and even endorphins. This little cocktail reduces anxiety, elevates mood, and…..it is gifted back to the beneficiary, making it a happiness loop for a world that is hurting today in ways that many of us cannot imagine.
What if we showed up for the world the way we do for babies and puppies?
Today’s Talk to the Brain™ Tip is easy to guess: Smile.
And not a Vaseline-toothed pageant smile. Be like Caroline and tap into your sense of wonder with a judgment-free, welcoming smile from the soul for people of all ages, regardless of the evidence of poop and drool.
With love and cheers,