“Rachel, why do you smile so much?” -Real questions from real people

  1. My parents paid very nice money to have me in proper orthodontia for eight years straight. To put it another way, if you had a lamp, would you hide it under a bowl? No.
  2. Everyone knows smiling takes less muscle work than frowning and I’m pretty lazy so, here we are. If I did want a good workout, maybe I would start frowning more.
  3. I’ve got joy and there’s a whole lot to smile about.

Would you rather be someone who smiles a lot or someone who doesn’t smile a lot? I made my choice and people notice. People frequently ask me why I am cheery or smiley or happy. Cheery-smiley-happiness happens to be my natural disposition. This is not to say I am never sad, frustrated, or solemn; I do experience the whole range of emotion as a human being, but I naturally fall on the brighter side of the emotional spectrum. And I am going to let you know why.

If you were looking for my origin story, this is it:

As a child, I was a picky eater. There was a long list of foods I didn’t like either because I didn’t like the smell, the texture, or the idea of the food. My family made fun of me, especially about Jell-O. Everyone likes Jell-O, my siblings told me. Jell-O made me gag. I never understood why they wanted to convert me into a Jell-O eater anyways. If I didn’t eat dessert, there was more for my siblings. I was a very picky, yet considerate, child.

The one food I hated above all other foods was tortellini. Yuck. The sight of it repulsed me. And, to be honest, I think I just hated it because I decided I didn’t like it–not because I actually didn’t like it. We all make irrational food enemies as a child, right?

One night, my mother called us downstairs for dinner. Guess what was for dinner? Tortellini. Yuck. I gave my meal the dirtiest and most repulsed look I could. My father saw my face. He had had enough of my picky eating and unappreciative attitude and sent me to my room. No dinner.

The next morning I woke up for school. I went downstairs to grab some cereal and, to my surprise, found my father preparing me breakfast: tortellini. Yuck. My parents agreed that my dinner would be served as breakfast because I wasn’t willing to eat it the previous night (solid parent move). My mother envisioned me eating it warm, but my dad forgot to heat it up. Cold tortellini. Double yuck.

I learned that morning that tortellini, even cold tortellini, could not kill me and was not worth my time complaining about. In fact, most things weren’t worth complaining about.

This next statement is a broad generalization: everyone complains too much. We complain about the weather, the coffee we ordered, the lines at the DMV, the kid crying at the grocery store, our jobs, the neighbors, traffic, etc. We are a bunch of whiners. We all deserve to be sent to our rooms and given cold tortellini for breakfast.

I have two thoughts about all of this.

First, be appreciative. I was unappreciative of my mother who cooked for me every night and tried hard to accommodate to my picky eating when I didn’t even give her cooking a chance in the first place. I learned to be appreciative for things I didn’t like in the midst of my tortellini episode. We don’t always have to be excited about something to be appreciative. There are upsides to almost every situation, you just have to look.

Many of us are wired to look for things to complain about which reinforces negative thinking. The more we choose to be negative, the more natural it will be for us to focus on negative things. If we make an effort to make thankfulness a habit, our entire outlook will shift.

My second thought is that we need to be more mindful of how we react to situations, especially situations out of our control. For example, I have friends who will complain to no end about the cold of winter and wish for summer–until summer comes and they can’t stand the heat and wish for snowy nights. Instead of complaining, reacting positively to our circumstances will change our outlook. Perhaps you had to wait 30 minutes at the DMV to be helped. You could choose to complain about the wait that you knew you would have to endure or you could focus on positive parts of the experience, like having a delightful conversation with the person at the help desk.

There are times when it is appropriate to complain. Perhaps if your server at the restaurant dropped your plate on you on purpose. But complaints need to be purposeful, not lazy. If a complaint won’t change anything, don’t complain. Complaining about the weather does not make it stop raining. Complaining about being treated poorly by a restaurant employee could yield tangible results–like the firing of an unruly employee.

Let’s not be lazy about our outlooks. We can actively partake in changing and shaping the way we think by being mindful of how we think and how we talk about our circumstances. The only thing you are allowed to be lazy about are face muscles because a few less frowns and a few more smiles never hurt anyone.

2 thoughts on “Outlook

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