ELIANNA LEV Writer

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THE GIG Lev, who splits her time be­tween Toronto and Van­cou­ver, writes about find­ing joy in life sim­ply by smil­ing. creati ve juices “My sources of in­spi­ra­tion in­clude my dog Dutchie’s un­flinch­ing en­thu­si­asm, Anaïs Nin’s diaries and the work and prac­tice of Toronto artist Sandy Plot­nikoff.”

I’m bounc­ing around the light-filled atrium of the Art Gallery of On­tario like a tod­dler af­ter a choco­lat­e­chip-cookie binge. Then, smil­ing ear to ear, I give a room­ful of strangers two thumbs up à la pho­tog­ra­pher Terry Richard­son. Fi­nally, I emit a deep-throated laugh that I hope sounds some­thing close to Santa Claus’ merry gig­gle (and not a de­ranged elf). This is laugh­ter yoga—and I don’t be­long here.

While my de­fault set­ting may be more Eey­ore than Tig­ger, I signed up for the class as part of an on­go­ing quest to find more joy in ev­ery day. It’s a prom­ise I made to my­self when I went off an­tide­pres­sants in Au­gust 2014 with the sup­port of my doc­tor. My time on med­i­ca­tion was in­valu­able—not only did I feel less trapped in my head but I also learned the im­por­tance of rou­tine, ex­er­cise and med­i­ta­tion. But I still wasn’t any hap­pier. The next step seemed clear: I needed to teach my­self to truly enjoy life in­stead of just ex­ist­ing.

Even world-weary mis­an­thropes need baby steps. So first up was smil­ing. Reg­u­larly. I’d watched the Hid­den Power of Smil­ing TED Talk, which re­vealed how fre­quent grin­ning has been linked to longer life, re­duced stress and a health­ier im­mune sys­tem. I forced my lips to curl up­ward while walk­ing my dog, and I beamed through din­ner with my fam­ily even when the topic turned to the grim state of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics.

Of­ten, I felt like a fraud. Sure, my lips were lifted, but in­ter­nally I felt like a gri­mac­ing emoji or a twisted Dis­ney vil­lain. And that’s okay, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts. In 2012, Univer­sity of Kansas re­searchers found that just mim­ick­ing the ac­tion of a smile can make you feel less stressed. Lisa Cypers Ka­men, an L.A.-based ap­plied pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy coach, uses the method with her pa­tients. Dur­ing treat­ment, she asks them to put a pen in their mouth to phys­i­cally force a grin. “We used to be­lieve that if we think happy thoughts, we’re go­ing to be hap­pier— but emo­tions fol­low our ac­tions,” says Ka­men. Laugh­ter has the same ben­e­fits and will release hap­pi­ness-making en­dor­phins re­gard­less of whether your mirth is cour­tesy of a killer Amy Schumer sketch or a forced chuckle at your boss’ lame joke.

Cue the laugh­ter yoga class and me practising my ho ho hos. While at first this pub­lic out­burst made me want to tur­tle, I was soon able to tap into a unique joy just for the sake of it—joy I hadn’t felt since I was a child. And that’s the point. “Adults laugh with their minds,” my laugh in­struc­tor Sue Bhanot told me. “When some­one tells a joke, you process it quickly and then you de­cide if you’re go­ing to laugh or not. Chil­dren laugh with their bod­ies. We forget how to do that as we get older.” When you do laugh like that, “you pro­duce sero­tonin, which will give you a happy boost,” adds Thomas Flindt, a laugh­ter guru and the au­thor of Happy Le­mons.

Af­ter a couple of months, I can both see and feel a dif­fer­ence. Th­ese days, my rest­ing face is more smi­ley than sour­puss, and ev­ery time I leave the house, I shoot my­self a grin in the mir­ror. It in­stantly gives me a non­caf­feinated jolt of pos­i­tiv­ity. I’ve also found my­self con­nect­ing with strangers. Most of the time they look at me with con­fu­sion, but ev­ery so of­ten, I get a warm smile back. While all this hap­pi­ness home­work hasn’t cat­a­pulted my spirit to Oprah lev­els of joy, I do feel like I’ve come a long way from slog­ging through the days just to get them done. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween show­ing up and show­ing up with a pur­pose. Life feels lighter, and so does the fu­ture.

Find out more with The Hap­pi­ness Track: How to Ap­ply the Science of Hap­pi­ness to Ac­cel­er­ate Your Suc­cess

by Emma Sep­pälä.

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