Smile. Do that right now. Crack a grin and see what happens. Really. I’ll wait.
Did you notice how that simple gesture transformed your mood? Do that often and you can improve your health, boost your immune system, and even live longer.
A new study from the University of South Australia found that even faking a smile by biting on a pen stimulates the amygdala. That is the emotional center of the brain. According to the study, smiling “…releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.”
Another study by London University College stated that, “…happy, cheerful people are 35% more likely to live longer. Smiling lowers the heart rate and reduces blood pressure, while relaxing the body.”
Walking around with a pen in your mouth is not ideal. Constantly remembering to grin is also challenging. What other things can make us so euphoric that it becomes our nature to laugh? Think about it for a minute – what makes you feel happiest? Shopping? Dining out? Taking vacations? Traveling to exotic locations? Riding on roller coasters?
Many of these diversions are fine, but they only make us content in the moment. Shopping is fun until the bill arrives. Ditto dining out. Vacations can be so exhausting that we often need another one right when we get back just to recover from the first one. Travel these days is fraught with complications and delays. Also, do you really want to ride the same roller coaster a thousand times?
What else comes to mind? Enjoying the company of family and friends, gardening, finding new recipes to try, axe throwing, skydiving? These are temporary pleasures. We enjoy them in the moment, then they are over. How do we find lasting delight?
Some people find satisfaction in their job. They look forward to going to the office, seeing their coworkers, and passing the time. That is great work if you can get it, but what do you do outside of business hours? What happens when it is time to retire? I met a fellow this week who worked as a custodian for the New York City Department of Education for his entire life. He finally retired. After two weeks spent at home watching TV, he felt so bored that he took a job with an appliance repair firm. Where is his happiness?
Fortunately, religious Jews are not limited to the fleeting pleasures of this world. We were given a cheat sheet, a secret user’s manual, to enjoy not only this world but the next one as well. We need not pursue an endless treasure hunt for the next bigger and better entertainment because we already have it. There is nothing sweeter than learning the Torah itself. Further, we are actually rewarded beyond comprehension just for learning it. Finally, it contains all the secrets of life, what to do to achieve true happiness, as well as what not to do. It is the ultimate master class for life, free of charge.
We will soon welcome the joyous holidays of Sukkos and Simchas Torah, which are called the time of our rejoicing. In fact, the purest joy is to be close to Hashem. During this holiday we leave our homes and dwell in the sukkah to commemorate the clouds of glory. Hashem Himself welcomed us, protected us, and fed us in the most miraculous manner. We physically remove ourselves from our creature comforts and our distractions and we ideally spend over a week with Hashem, being with our families, dressing in our finery, and serving delicacies.
Then on Simchas Torah we dance and sing with our holy Torah as we celebrate this gift in pure joy. We bring our children to witness and experience the sheer energy and happiness demonstrated by throngs of men singing and dancing. Nobody is checking their phones or watching the clock, as there is no better place to be than with our co-religionists as we all give thanks to Hashem for choosing us and for making us exclusively His. No other pursuit or pleasure can ever measure up to what we have been given as Torah observant Jews. Feel the joy and let it envelop you. Let your face erupt in a genuine smile!