My glass is usually half-full. Things will get better. The sun will come out tomorrow, so on and so forth. Granted, sometimes it’s an act.
Like yesterday morning when I stood in front of my full-length mirror, poking at my bloated stomach with disgust.
“Do you have a baby in there?” my 6-year-old daughter asked nonchalantly, slurping on a Popsicle.
“No,” I responded, unable to hide my horror.
She shrugged and walked away, “Looks like it.”
Yeah, I’m aware. But it’s always nice to have confirmation from someone who won’t get a wrinkle for another 20 years. I spent the rest of my day stealing sideways glances at myself on every reflective surface. I sucked in my stomach. I beat myself up for eating leftover Easter candy. I vowed to workout twice a day (don’t worry, it’ll never happen).
But nothing made me feel better about myself until I decided to feel better about myself. I looked in the mirror and smiled at my reflection. At first it was as genuine as a politician, but somehow the simple act of smiling managed to warm my heart—and I swear to you—shrink my stomach. Usually smiling is a response to something that tickles us. Sometimes reversing the order works.
When I ran my first marathon in March, there were moments during the race when I felt very, very bad (okay, lots of moments). And so did everyone else. I know, because I could see it on their faces. Slack mouths, sad eyes, furrowed foreheads. By mile 15 we were a quiet, sullen bunch, shuffling along like shackled prisoners. Lifting our eyes from the pavement to acknowledge cheering from the sidelines would require too much. Smiling? Impossible.
Or maybe not.
Plodding forward with nothing but my thoughts and a heavy dose of lactic acid to keep me company I started to think that maybe smiling—in spite of the fact that my calves were cramping and my lower intestines were barely holding it together—couldn’t really hurt the situation, could it?
At about that moment I heard a guy call out to me over his beer from a lawn chair: “You’re almost there!” It was a stupid joke. A terrible lie. And deeply uncreative. (When you run a marathon, every third spectator yells this.) While I didn’t think I had the energy to acknowledge him, I did have an overwhelming desire to fold him up in his lawn chair.
Instead, I summoned a tiny reserve of energy tucked away in the recesses of my heart, and smiled.
He practically dropped his red Solo cup. “Hey! Mile 15 and you’re still smiling! Keep it up!”
I did keep it up. I continued to smile stupidly at every spectator sprinkled along the course. I felt a little crazy, a little deceitful—and a lot better.
The smile helped. And it seemed to help others too. They cheered harder for me. They believed in my feigned happiness. Eventually, I started to believe it too.
Sometimes the smallest gestures have the biggest impact. My legs and my spirit could barely carry me 26.2 miles—my smile had a better go of it.