Sunday, September 29, 2013

How many times have you smiled today?  Five?  Ten?  One hundred?  Zero?  Did your smile stretch the corners of your mouth, bunch up your cheeks, and spread around the room.  Did you smile with your whole body or just your face?  Did your smile alter the organic chemistry inside your brain?  Was it fake or real?  While the act of smiling seems so automatic and absent of importance, I recently learned the power contained in a smile is anything but ordinary.

Ron Gutman spoke to the TEDxSiliconValley Conference in 2011 on the topic of smiles.  His short talk contained everything we need to make our days happier and our lives longer.  Please allow me to share a summary of the studies he presented.  

People who smile are viewed as more likable, courteous, and competent.  The brain activity created through a single smile is equivalent to eating 2,000 bars of chocolate or receiving $25,000 in cash and lacks the caloric consequences or tax penalties.  Smiling cleanses the blood stream of stress enhancing hormones and increases mood enhancing endorphins.  Smiles are evolutionarily contagious.  We are programmed to smile when others are smiling.  Children smile up to 400 times a day while nearly 50% of the adult population smiles around or less than 20 times a day.

The summary: find more time to spend around children as they will help you live a longer and happier life.

Smiles are also predictors of our marital success and our longevity.  A study of baseball cards suggested that people who pose with a beaming smile will live seven years longer than people who don’t.
Too bad hair size isn't an indicator of
longevity and happiness.

Flip back through your yearbooks and take a look at your smiles.  How long are you going to live?  Please don’t think you are condemned to live the life dictated by a high school or college yearbook.  You can right your ship if you feel it is headed in the wrong direction.  Just smile more.  Studies have shown that if you fake a smile, your body will actually adopt the feeling associated with the action, altering your mood and your outlook.  Fake it until it is real.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thirty Four
As we near our birthdays, I imagine most adults perform some sort of year end review, a progress report of sorts, just to see where we fit into the scheme of our own life.  We evaluate how close we are to accomplishing life goals.  We chastise ourselves for missing opportunities and not being where we should.  We congratulate ourselves for the life we managed to craft out of the various opportunities the world has thrown our way.

I turn 34 this coming Tuesday, and while I know I am still a spring chicken to many and a wise elder to the rest, I was curious how I fit into the world age dynamic.  So I turned to the interwebs to give give myself some perspective on how I should feel about my impending age.

At the ripe old age of 34, I pass into the latter half of my life.  According to the average world life expectancy, 67 years and 25 days, I have begun my descent.  Anyone looking ahead to some sort of surprise birthday party at 40 complete with black streamers and compliment of black helium balloons has missed the boat.  I am officially over the hill.  

Compared to men the world over, I am in worse shape.  Little did I know that I surpassed the middle of my life a year and a half ago.  Whoops.  Apparently, women have it much better than men, outlasting us by four years.  Good to know Samantha won’t be over the hill for a number of years yet.

Apparently, I am also in the older half of the population as well with over 50% of the population aged under 30 years.  I guess it is time to hang out on the front porch with a water hose and yell at the kids who walk in my lawn.

So, I will say thank God I live in the United States where I still have another five years until I officially pass over the hill at the age of 39.  Too bad I don’t live in Japan where I can postpone that party until 41 and a half, or any of the other 32 countries whose populations live longer than us.  I am definitely not looking a gift horse in the mouth though, since I would have been over the hill in Sierra Leone ten years ago and would be looking forward to only 13 more years.

From the more personal side, if I were my Dad, I would have three kids - the oldest a handsome devil aged 13, the youngest just entering his terrible twos.

If I were Oprah, a whole lot more people would read this blog.  Other than that, I would have been the host of my own show for only two years.  This would be the year I launch my own production company, purchase the rights to my show, and move it to ABC.

If I were J.K. Rowling, I would have just published the third Harry Potter novel, but I wouldn’t have seen young Harry on the silver screen. I were Daniel Radcliffe, I wouldn’t have played Harry Potter.  In fact, I wouldn’t have been born.  

If I were Harrison Ford, the world wouldn’t yet know me as Han Solo.

If I were Beethoven, I would be midway through my transition into deafness.  If I were Mozart, 93% of my life’s work would already have been published and the Oscar award winning movie about my life would still be 194 years in the future (the year 2207 for those of you not wanting to do the math).  If I were Franz Schubert, I would have already succumbed to syphilis.

If I were Jesus, I would be sitting at the right hand.

But, I am not any of those people.  Take it or leave it, I am who I am.  Two days from age 34.  I am not worried about how many more days I have left on this planet, or what I have done or not done up to this point.  I plan on living each day to the fullest and letting tomorrow take care of itself.

Happy Birthday to me.  Thanks for coming along on the ride.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Paradoxical Commandment #10 summary message contained in the Dr. Kent M. Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments resonates with an appropriate measure of cynical optimism.  In some ways, it seems as if he implores us to do our best while expecting the worst.  After only a surface reading, I would agree, but when taken as a whole, the commandments reveal a deeper truth rooted solely in optimism.  Paradoxical Commandment number ten continues in the same vein:
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Dr. Keith’s commandments seek to weaken pessimistic arguments against them by including the very arguments in the commandments.  This best of/worst of pairing creates the paradoxical nature the commandments embody.  Dr. Keith acknowledges humanity’s own tendency towards the negative, the trend we feel to pull others down, and he tells us not to worry about it.  Our own nature combats this very same paradox on a daily basis.

Imagine the commandments without the negatives:
  1. Love
  2. Do good
  3. Succeed
  4. Do good
  5. Be Honest and Frank
  6. Think big
  7. Fight for the underdogs
  8. Build
  9. Help People
  10. Give the world your best
Without the negatives, the commandments ignore our own nature, losing much of their power to connect with us.  We know these are actions we should take, but our weak egos immediately throw up defensive fortifications based on previous experience:

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered
  2. People will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives
  3. You will win false friends and true enemies
  4. Good is forgotten quickly
  5. You will be vulnerable
  6. Small men and women with small minds will shoot you down
  7. People only follow top dogs
  8. What you build will be destroyed
  9. People may attack you
  10. You will get kicked in the teeth.

These are our ego’s defenses.  By splashing them on the page paired with our desired attributes, we eviscerate the ego’s defense.  We know these are all possibilities, but we don’t care.  We give the world our best anyway.

As your daily life unfolds in front of you, ignore the negative possibilities swirling around your every action.  Focus instead on the power of your good, on the vast love you hold for your fellow man, and on the possibility of success in your life. 

You are strong and you are powerful.  No matter what the world throws at you, be and do your best.  Do it anyway.

- I first encountered an adapted version of the “Paradoxical Commandments,” titled “The Final Analysis,” while listening to a Wayne Dyer audio CD in my early twenties.  The meaning and message struck me as true, helping guide my thoughts and actions as I developed from a big kid into a real adult.  Later, I discovered the poem was not actually written by Mother Theresa at all, but adapted, framed, and hung on the wall in her Calcutta orphanage.  She cared about its message enough to use it to empower the weak and marginalized children to whom she gave her life.

The Paradoxical Commandments are reprinted with permission.  © Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001