It is said that it takes less effort to smile than to frown.
In many ways I think it takes less effort to be kind than to be mean. Why is it that we seem to be better at not smiling, and why does pointing out the negative seem to come more naturally than finding the positive?
Is it really because smiling takes too much effort, or is because we are too caught up in our own worlds that we forget to stop for long enough to find something to smile about? Is it because witty negative quips seem to get more air time than positive uplifting words of encouragement, or is it because being kind requires more of us?
Now before I go down a path that might seem like I am bagging out the Negative Neds and Nellies of the world, in full disclosure I confess to once being the master of sarcasm and negative quips. It was a habit I fell into as a teen and it was definitely not the easiest habit to change.
As far as pendulum swings go, I am probably (quite annoyingly now) one of THOSE people who will jump in the positives when people are offloading about their negatives. It was a “skill” that used to drive me insane when my mum would always put forward the opposite viewpoint to my often witty albeit negative life observations. I was sure she was just being contrary for the sake of being contrary. I could never understand why she could not just agree with me and let me have a whine.
Now I drive my hubby (and probably a stack of other friends who haven’t yet been bold enough to tell me) crazy with the same “skill”. Yup, my hubby will go rank about someone doing something a bit silly on the road, and I will be “helpfully suggesting” that they might be having a bad day, or their mother might’ve just died, or they just have a lot on their mind…. all the while Craig would just prefer that I agree that he was 100% completely justified in giving them a good old blast with the car horn! Which of course he was.
Unlearning the negative
The unlearning of speaking out the first negative thing that comes to mind, has not been easy for me. I still to this day catch myself, particularly when I am juggling too many balls and when I don’t have “space” in my life to be as “generous” as I would like to be (in my thoughts, words or my time).
It is easy to step into the blame game or have a grumble about things that tick us off, but if that kind of thinking is allowed to fill our minds too often it will become a “language” we live, not just talk. So, we do need to take these thoughts “captive”, recognise them for what they are, and then send them packing. But it can’t stop there, we have to re-train our “reflex” thinking to something else, so that when the next thing comes our way we have transformed the way we react. It becomes the renewing of our mind, which in turn becomes a new way to live.
Hand on my heart, I know that my outlook on life and my life itself is fuller, more joyful, less stressful and more positive as I have become conscious and quite serious in this thought life transformation. Even if it does annoy my hubby no end! To him I am behaving “just like my mother” being contrary for the sake of being contrary. Maybe one day he too will “see the light”! Ha!
In many ways the transformation it is about making small changes that make a big difference.
Smile from the inside out
Smile instead of not smiling. Obviously, we all go though seasons when it is hard to smile. And I am not talking about putting on a fake smile to mask what is going on for you. I am just saying, that before you go into a “woe is me” or “life sucks” spiral, stop for a minute and reflect on all that is good in your life. Find one thing you can smile about and then let that smile break – from the inside out. It will set you up for the day if you make this a daily habit and it costs you nothing but a moment in time!
I remember my mum used to drive me crazy as a sullen teenager who could only critique her appearance in the mirror, when she told me to put a smile on my face and I would look beautiful. I remember grimacing in the mirror and then scowling at her – she clearly didn’t have a clue – until I grew up! Now I already have plans to have the following words etched into the mirror when my daughter becomes a teen:
“Smile! Happiness looks gorgeous on you!”
It is true though isn’t it? Some of the most beautiful people I know, are the ones who smile from the inside out despite their circumstance.
Be kind instead of mean spirited. Be generous. Share instead of holding on. Pour out instead of expecting to be filled by others or by things. It is so weird how this works. But the more we sow, the more we reap. The more we give away, the richer we become. Give without expecting in return.
I am not talking about being someone’s doormat, continually giving to those who take advantage. I am talking about giving to your family, your village your community, where you see a need and you know you have the resource to meet it. Your resource might be time – for a coffee with a fellow parent, a lunch with a colleague or a phone call to a mentee. It might be making an extra meal and taking it across to a lonely neighbour or inviting them over to share time with you. It might be writing a note of encouragement to someone who you appreciate. It could be your professional talent or your money given to a deserving cause or a struggling family. It might be as simple as seeing the person you are interacting with and connecting with them – asking them how their day is going, instead of telling them all about yours.
Making the switch to this kind of thinking can be a shift for many (myself included). It pretty much means coming to the realisation that life is not all about you. Ouch! Yup, I know, that can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the sooner you work that out, the bigger your life will be. Why? Because you will begin to multiply what is unique to you and you will bless others – like watching a ripple expand outwards you will wonder why you didn’t let that penny drop sooner!
Transformative law life thinking
I write this post after a week in my law life that has resembled playing some kind of game of letter-writing “whack a mole”. After 20 plus years of practice, in complex estate administration and contested estates, I have become less and less tolerant of my opposition who seem to create unnecessary negativity and stress in their life (and mine!).
Our legal profession is one of the worst hit in the depression and anxiety stakes. I can’t help but wonder if some of it has to do with how we have been trained as lawyers to see the negative, to focus on the problem and to fight for our client’s “rights” at the expense of finding a calmer, more cost-efficient way of resolving things.
This style of practice means putting aside “winning an argument” (which I know is hard for us lawyers to do!) and instead realising that it is not all about us. In fact, it is not all about our client’s position either. To my mind it is about helping our clients navigate through the “trauma” of the event that has caused them to lawyer up, to the place where they have the capacity to articulate what it is they want – (yup, queue the Spice Girls) …. what it is they really, really want. Most of them when asked, will confess that they want the fight to be over, so they can move on with their lives.
It is our job then to make sure that happens as quickly and as calmly as possible. To do that, we will need to step away from the keyboards we use as weapons to type out our scathing letters, and to instead pick up the phone to our opposition or better still meet them face to face. To open conversations about commercial settlements, to build on the commonality most feuding parties share (a wish not to waste legal costs) and to suggest a path forward. To choose a kinder, calmer path that might even end with a handshake and a smile!
So, here’s to transformative thinking, smiling and being kind! Surely it is a better way to live!