“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
The American Crisis, No. I – December 1776
If the entire book had to be summed up in one quote, the one by Thomas Paine would be a good candidate. Reflect on it for a bit, and then we will proceed to make it yours with the simplest, but most powerful exercise in this book.
That quote is where we want to be. Where are we now?
Our society has confused making a great effort with great muscular tension. When we watch a movie, the protagonist, during his dark night of the soul, has a tense face with his lips drawn back in a rictus of effort. Instead can you imagine the hero entering the arena, to face a large well developed famous gladiator, with a smile on his face. How about when the bullets are flying past his head, the bombs are falling about him, or their landing craft is approaching the beach head through artillery fire. In a drama how often does the wronged party smile when they learn their significant other is intimate with another?
None of this is easy to imagine, much less to do. But start now.
This is the practice. When the movie or video you are watching reaches a fever pitch, and all the faces on the screen are dark with foreboding, smile.
In your daily drive when the light turns red just as you reach it, smile. Keep in mind that this is not to make you some jolly elf of traffic. You are using this circumstance, in which you would be anyway, to achieve a higher purpose, to become a superior being.
The act of smiling is incompatible with tension and anxiety. When the muscles of your face relax into this posture, it sends a message to the rest of your body and spirit that all is well, time to be jolly. Your brain picks up on this and releases various feel-good neurotransmitters that will fight anxiety and produce relaxation.
This is huge, so lets say it again. You may be on a guided tour of Hell, but the act of smiling will change that. The physical act of changing your facial configuration into a smile is a powerful technique. Practice it everyday in situations where you wouldn’t normally smile. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a spontaneous smile, and one you execute in the face of hell.
Numerous Navy SEALs and army Rangers have said that they survived severe training with this technique. When they have a “bad day,” it can be a very bad day. And yet they joke and smile through it. Practice smiling.