The two books I’ve paid a lot of attention to lately are “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron and “Happy for No Reason” by Marci Shimoff.
Now it may mostly be spring, or having great therapists, but I’ve been feeling a lot better lately, and doing better in social situations. Here’s a few tips from these two that are helping me on the bus, at parties, at dinner, in professional situations, even at home alone.
Smiling: Marci talks about mirror neurons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron. It’s a pet peeve of mine, smiling when I’m not feeling it… I hate people telling me to smile, or hearing general platitudes about smiling. When I’m depressed my smile looks like a grimace. But I’ve been feeling good lately, and going around smiling at people is making me feel even better. What’s more, when I’m in a social situation getting anxious, I remind myself to smile if I can, and lo and behold, its catching. It makes other people engage with me more cheerfully and gently, as well as making strangers smile back. I’ve been hanging with a super smiling toddler downtown, and literally everyone, all the downtown business grouchies, no matter how sad or angry looking, will melt and smile at us. I’m no adorable toddler but I certainly get more smiles and good cheer when I smile at people then when I don’t. So whatever, sappy 101, I tried it when I was sad and working in a corporate grouchy office and it didn’t seem to work at all – but its working great for me these days, on the street, on the bus, at parties, waiting in line. It doesn’t work in EVERY scenario but its been cheering me up.
Something Pema said struck me to the core. “The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.” I am the queen of disapproval! So I’ve been trying hard NOT to disapprove – even when something sounds self-destructive, or mean, or counter-productive, I try not to just TSK and buy into disapproval. I wind up disapproving of myself before long, and I’m tired of being so judgmental of my own humanity. I wish to practice approval and gentleness. It spirals both ways. So reminding myself, when I’m disapproving of something, that it’s not the only option out there, is making me accept all kinds of things I found offensive before. And the less I disapprove of people’s human nature, the more I find I accept myself, I accept social situations, and I accept being alive.