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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Happy things happen when you smile

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

The baby giant panda born at Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo has been named Xiang Xiang. It has been just over four months since the female cub's birth, and the little creature is now apparently pretty much able to walk. Xiang Xiang is just astoundingly cute in her TV news appearances, and I have to admit I've gone on the internet to watch and rewatch (and rewatch) videos of her.

Recently, I had a meeting with a coworker just after watching one of those Xiang Xiang videos, and the person said to me, "You look so happy. Did something good happen?" I couldn't quite say that I'd just seen a panda video, giving a sort of half-answer instead. Nevertheless, my coworker started to smile too, and that day's work went very smoothly.

Conversely, I've had days where I've started to frown without noticing, and had colleagues ask me if I'm feeling ill. At those times, the workplace environment lacks a certain spark, conversations are stilted and awkward, and tasks often don't go as I'd thought.

These instances are little reminders that facial expressions are important. When someone marches sullenly into the office in the morning, those around them become nervous or gloomy as well. On the other hand, if someone comes through the door smiling and telling everyone "Good morning!" then we smile, and reply naturally with our own "Good morning" or "Cold today, isn't it?" even if we are a bit tired.

Now, someone may say, "Well, I understand that happy expressions are important, but I really have nothing to be happy about." Perhaps the story I started this column with will be of help to those people.

That is to say, when I started to smile by watching panda videos, I didn't personally really have anything to be happy about. Nevertheless, I ended up with a grin on my face, and that helped soften the mood around me as well.

So, even if nothing especially happy is going on, try smiling. If you look at photos of baby animals or fabulous food shots, you'll probably find yourself smiling before you know it. That way, you should be able to put a genuine smile on your face even in the absence of any particularly good news. And if you do, that smile will spread to those around you, and in the end you may have something real to grin about.

In short, the formula doesn't go "I smile because I'm happy," but rather, "Happy things happen because I smile." Xiang Xiang the panda taught me this lucky way to be happy, and I'm looking forward to suggesting it to someone at my practice soon. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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