Remember the fable about the ant and the elephant?
I didn't either! Good thing we have children's books to remind us of such things.
Here are the Cliff's Notes: Ant gets stuck on a reed in a river. Other animals are snarky and will not help ant. Elephant kindly and easily swoops ant to safety. Ant thanks elephant profusely. Elephant is all, "it was nothing." Ant quips, "to you, it may have been nothing, but to me it was everything."
[Pause for effect.]
Okay--just for a paragraph, now--let's leap from children's books to self development literature. Because we're multi-dimensional like that.
Sonja Lyubomirsky (a positive psychologist whose books are as ground-breaking as her name is hard to spell) has scientifically proven that acts of kindness not only boost the happiness of the person RECEIVING the kind act, but also of the person DOING the act and of anybody OBSERVING the act.
So what do you get when you cross an elephant fable with a positive psychology study?
You get an easy recipe for widespread happiness, that's what you get.
[To flesh that out, the fable shows that seemingly small acts of kindness can be life-altering. Sonja says those "teeny" kindnesses will help everybody involved in or watching the acts. So, lots of small acts could help a whole sea of people, right? (A + B = SEA of Happiness.)]
Since I like efficiency and I like practicality and I most definitely like happiness, I ask myself: what is the simplest thing that I can do throughout my day that requires little of me but might mean a lot to someone else?
The answer that comes immediately to mind is: Smile. Genuinely. Soulfully. Kindly. Contagiously.
But let's be real: can a smile really make a difference in someone's life? And what in tarnation does any of this have to do with these mind-blowingly beautiful photos of Coral Brown?
Patience, Dear Readers. I shall weave those answers into the remainder of this post: swearsies. But first I need to address something important.
Most of us get in our own ways when it comes to happiness. I've come up with a list of reasons that I think we do this (more later), but one reason is that sometimes we feel GUILTY about being happy. Who are WE to be happy when so many people have life so much harder than us? We think we "should" be dedicating time to other tasks or people instead of nurturing ourselves. Afraid to rub salt on open wounds, we assume that our happiness will make the sad sadder.
But could our happiness make the sad happier?
A few years ago, I was having a down day. Not a woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed kind of down day, but a remind-myself-to-breathe kind of down day. Frankly, I don't remember if I was sad about one thing or lots of things or nothing at all. It doesn't matter: I was down.
So I went to yoga, which is one of the action-items on my Emergency Depression Plan. Basically, when I show my face in a yoga studio, I might as well be pumping out "S.O.S." signals in morse code, because inevitably my spirits are tanking. I love yoga--really, I do--and some day I will practice it when I am not capsizing.
But not today.
When I walked into the yoga studio that day, Coral--who didn't know me at the time--was squatting at the front of the room, talking to someone. She looked up, made eye contact, and smiled at me. Coral is such a soulful and radiant person that when she smiled, she communicated such tranquility--such LIGHT--that time paused for a moment and I felt peace.
I FELT that smile, Lovely Reader. I felt it as PEACE in my HEART.
In that slowed moment I knew: I have been that happy before and I will be that happy again.
I will be okay.
To Coral, the elephant in that moment, that smile was insignificant: she doesn't remember it.
But to me, the ant in that moment, that smile was everything. That smile was hope. It was assurance.
It was humanity and spirit all at once.
I think most of us are afraid to be happy. At a bathtub-deep level of consciousness, we are afraid that if we go around SMILING at people all the time, people will think we are push-overs and try to take advantage of us.
But if we dive approximately seven leagues deeper than that, we realize that we are actually soul-shakingly SCARED to be purely happy because when we are happy we are vulnerable. When we are happy, we wonder when the other foot is going to fall.
So we CREATE THE OTHER FOOT by not letting ourselves get super happy in the first place. It's safer here.
"How genius of us," says I, sarcastically.
[No judgement here, Homies. Creating the other foot is my M.O.: I'm freakishly super-human in my ability to create feet where there were no feet before. If you do this too, you are amongst friends.]
My point is this: in most cases, happiness demands infinitely more courage from us than sadness. People who go around projecting happiness are kind and courageous HEROES, not selfish or ignorant push-overs.
And you have a calling to be one of those heroes.
Taking care of ourselves so that we can truly BE happy and PROJECT happiness is not an act of selfishness but a profound act of public service.
A simple smile--as Sonja L. would say--not only helps the person we are smiling at, it also helps US and ANYBODY OBSERVING US.
A smile can be a gift of hope, of reassurance, of peace.
A simply smile--which comes so readily and soulfully when we are doing the work--may feel to you as insignificant as the effort required for an elephant to lift an ant.
But the person on the receiving end of your smile might just be thinking, "to me, it was everything."
What can you do to be an elephant today?
Be Present, Inc. recently hired me to do this photo session with Coral for their spring clothing line. Check out their beautiful and super-comfy yoga clothes here!
[A photo from our previous session together landed in Yoga Journal! Hot Dog!!]
Also. I can't recommend Coral's yoga classes highly enough! She's a world-traveler, teaching yoga (and training yoga teachers) all over the globe…lucky for us, Rhode Island is her home. Here's where to find her.