Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's making you happy this week: The smile, science and other stuff

It would be correct to assume that most of you know the last few months have been a roller coaster of anger and sadness. I had a conversation with my brother a few weeks ago about how he finally had 20 minutes of happiness. "I just expect that one day I'll wake up and feel ready to be myself again. It'll be like flipping a switch," he insisted. "I'll be productive and go surfing!"

"I'm not sure that's how it works, JJ. I think this process operates on a gradient and today you've had 20 minutes. Tomorrow, maybe you'll have 24 and the next possibly only 22. I think it's going to take a very long time for us to reach a normal level." What I've learned from others who have lost someone they love is that your sadness never really goes away. You learn to live with it and in 7 seven years, I'm still going to cry over the loss of my mother.

There is a silver lining. I've noticed that I am able to appreciate things much more. For example, I take a lot of pride in wearing something that was my mom's or was a gift from her. At the grocery store the clerk said to me, "Do you really like frogs too? I like your pin."

"Actually, it was my mothers," I stoically responded, and my eyes drifted to the corner of the counter as I processed this interaction. After a moment, I realized I was happy to have a moment to talk about the beauty my mother brought into this world with a perfect stranger. I quickly glanced back at the cashier to convey this realization through a smile but noticed she was intensely focusing on scanning groceries. 

Over the holidays Katie and Skyler made a pumpkin cheesecake, a dessert my mother had been making for 20 years. I had enjoyed this so many times and never found it to be my favorite. This year, however, it tasted different. As Uncle Matt said, "Put a little nostalgia in the mix and it anything is delicious!"

Yesterday, I wasn't granted much happiness but was proactive to obtain what was possible. On my way to an assessment test for a very good job, I ran into a lot of traffic in addition to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of debt I possess. I will be able to sustain my finances for a few months in the meantime, and I had left hours early for the assessment, but I still found myself grinding my teeth and on the verge of tears. What could I do? This was my opportunity to take control over my emotions, something I haven't had much of lately, but I knew I was capable of it in that moment. I turned on one of my favorite podcasts, Culturetopia's Pop Culture Happy Hour, a program that my sister insisted I listen to. I avoided it initially, recognizing that I am a woman who doesn't own a TV. However, the hosts of the show (Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Trey Graham, Glen Wheldon, and producer Mike Katzif) are hilarious and explain the shows, books, or movies that are discussed so a layperson like myself can enjoy. They discussed New Year's resolutions in the episode released on 1/7/11 and they ranged from vowing to watch all the movies nominated for an Oscar before the Oscars to reading more to watching less trashy reality TV. Linda, who I continually find inspiring, resolved to be more positive. I can get behind that in my life too.

Yes, that reads, "I EAT
Thus, the motivation for this post. Every episode, Holmes ties up the show by asking each member, "What's making you happy this week?" My answer is, another great find by my sister. She discovered it on Christmas Eve and we tried so hard not to laugh too loud. It was the best present.

I woke up this morning not wanting to get out of bed but eventually found myself in the bathroom by 8:30. To my surprise, I saw snowflakes as big as baby's fists (Thanks, Leah for the colorful terminology). I padded downstairs and spotted my new breakfast pin (Thanks, Andrew!). Finally, I read a great article in the New York Times by Carl Zimmer. In short, there was a study conducted that highlighted our ability to recognize the genuineness of a smile if we can mimic it. It discussed different responses in the brain to fake and real smiles and insisted that there is mystery linking faces and feelings. Using the least scientific data possible, I disagree. 

Editor's note: this video was jacked from the viewer's video on Tosh.0. Thanks!

As my mom would say, it's the smile that makes you happy. IT'S THE SMILE THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. Try it, I'm serious. Right now smile to yourself. Having trouble believing me? Maybe this video will help (or maybe it will just give you the willies!). 

Finally, I'd like to address the most hallowed and over-hyped political traditions: the State of the Union address. Hearing President Obama mention science numerous times really made me smile. Yay science!

Tomorrow, I might not be so lucky and maybe all the happiness I have today is due solely to the coffee. For the time being, I'm going to enjoy it, share it, and allow myself to be productive. I hope you can do the same!

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