How to Weather the Storm with a Smile

by Larry Rondeau

Life these days can be really tough. While there are always good things to enjoy, challenges and disappointments abound.  Some are able to clear the hurdles life throws at them, while others find that some really bring them down.  What can help you weather the storm and emerge relatively unscathed?  How can you triumph in situations that may destroy others?

Smiling When the Going Gets Tough

The old maxim to keep smiling when the going gets rough is great advice – for an unexpected reason.  Smiling makes you feel good.  Research highlighted in The New York Times showed that facial expressions often help to produce the moods they convey.

fearful expression produces feeligs of fearResearchers at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts told subjects to put their facial muscles in certain positions, like “Open your eyes wide and let your mouth hang open.”  They were actually given expressions that would exhibit a certain emotion, like fear or disgust.  They were not told anything about the emotion their faces would display.

When tested, most reported feeling the emotion they had unknowingly showed on their faces.  For instance, those induced to unwittingly portray a look of fear reported feeling more surprised and fearful than angry, disgusted or sad.

A German study caused subjects to feel happy by having them clench a pen in their teeth, which drew back their lips into a smile.  Others who held the pen in their lips, mimicking a pout reported feeling unhappy.  Respected University of Michigan social psychologist Robert Zajonc sums up the current research:

I’m not saying that all moods are due to changes in the muscles of the face, only that facial action leads to changes in mood.

Researchers find that Botox injections that make it difficult or impossible to frown have actually reduced symptoms of depression.

Most of us smile when things are going well.  Smiling through life’s difficult moments can help us to keep enjoying life despite them.

Viewing things in a way that brings advantage

optimistic salespeople sell moreIn “Maximizing the Chances of Success for You and Your Children” we learned that eminent psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman’s research for MetLife found that optimistic new salespeople outperformed their pessimistic peers by up to 57%.  Further research found one major reason why:  positive-minded people see opportunities that pessimists often miss.

An important difference between optimists and pessimists, Dr. Seligman found, was in the way they viewed setbacks.  Optimists saw them as limited and temporary (“It’s not that bad and this problem won’t last”).  Pessimists saw problems as major and permanent (“It’s a disaster and it’s not going to get any better”).

Frequently, the optimistic view is actually the realistic one.

lightbulb-earlyThomas Edison, one of history’s greatest inventors, made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to find the right filament for the electric lightbulb.  Finally, he succeeded – and changed the world forever.  A reporter asked him, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Edison had evidence that electric lighting was possible.  It would be far better than the dangerous gas lighting common in his day.  Despite the failure of many of his experiments, he never gave up hope that he would succeed.  He kept monitoring his results and making changes, confident that one would pay off.  Finally, he found one that worked.

Refuse to accept blame you don’t deserve

Many managers, in an attempt to get their team members to take needed responsibility, often foster the idea that we should take personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong.  Research by Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the 100 Most Influential Psychologists of the 20th Century, shows that this viewpoint, applied incorrectly, can produce destructive pessimism, even depression.

Those who were most optimistic and successful recognized their intrinsic value and looked for evidence of their good traits.  They recognized that failures were frequently the result of external factors, like poor economic conditions, bad timing or unforeseen occurrences.   For instance, even the most delicious food is less appealing if presented when your guests are full.

Constructively taking responsibility for a plan that didn’t work might mean saying to yourself, “I didn’t foresee this factor that got in the way.  Next time I’ll consider it when I cover all my bases and things will go better.”


Smiling produces good feelingsYears of research and personal experience show that smiling and generating positive thoughts based on well-founded optimism can help a person maintain happiness and keep going, even in difficult times.

Be aware of your value as a person.  When things go wrong that truly are your fault, recognize that good, intelligent, competent individuals frequently make mistakes.  Learn your lessons and move on.  When things go wrong, take all the responsibility that truly belongs to you, but not an ounce more.  Err on the side of positivity.  Weathering the storm truly is possible.  Keep smiling and thinking right and you’ll often come through it better than you were before it began.

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