At a party last week, the stress that was evident on many faces in the room surprised me. Most of the people attending were my age (60 plus) and the faces looked unhappy despite the gaiety of the evening, the lovely food and the libations. It wasn’t the wrinkles or the smile lines around the eyes. It was stress in the way people held their mouths and the positioning of their eyebrows. Nearly everyone’s lips were turned down The downturn made them look sad — just like the emoticon with the downward facing smile that many email users add to show sadness or regret.
Close observation made me realize how often we wear our thoughts on our face and how much tension we hold in our faces. I went home and looked carefully in the mirror. To my surprise, the way I held my mouth was very different when I consciously thought about someone I loved, a favourite song, or a happy experience. When I remembered a mistake, an embarrassing remark or a familiar worry, my mouth changed, my lips pursed and my eyebrows started to knit themselves together.
Obviously, my face reflected what was happening in my mind.
Negative thinking refers to thought patterns that are characterized by looking for what is wrong, by constant worry, by unmet expectations, and by habits of complaint or blame. The face reflects these negative thinking patterns.
Negative thought patterns can become habitual. We often fail to recognize that these automatic thinking patterns shape our moods and our general outlook on life.
Adopting a negative world view is common especially as we grow older. Our faces can’t hide life-long patterns of negative thinking even though we may deny this thinking style to ourselves or to others. Fortunately, with self-awareness, this thinking style is easily spotted. With awareness, negative thinking can change.
Changing your thinking — Changing your face
We want our faces reflect the wisdom and beauty of aging and not tension, negativity and stress. Here are a few mental practices that will serve as boosters for changing your thinking and changing your face.
Begin with kindness to yourself. As you treat yourself with grace and love, your face will show the inner happiness. Surprisingly, tension and stress will melt away. Try to put your heart into thinking about yourself and treat yourself gently and kindly.
Practice forgiveness. Start with forgiving yourself and then forgive others. Unfairness happens to all of us; all of us make stupid mistakes; all of us are forgetful; all of us can hurt others. When it happens to us, we are angry and resentful. When we hurt others, we suffer as well.
Let go of the past. It is over and nothing you do or think today will change what happened yesterday — or last month — or years ago. Let it be.
Try not to repeat mistakes. Mistakes happen and seeking perfectionism in yourself is a lost cause. Try to learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them. But don’t keep beating up yourself.
Stop worrying about the future. You can’t control what will happen in the future any more than you can change the past so stop thinking about awful things that might happen. Many things that we worry about are out of our human sphere of control. Look for solutions to your life situation that you can control and problem solve creatively but don’t worry about the uncontrollable aspects of life and world events.
Hang out with positive people. We all have friends whose presence and attitude immediately lifts our mood — people whose perspective is characterized by optimism, humour, and hope. Spend time with these people; learn their habits; and practise using their world view.
Don’t take yourself or your life too seriously. Look for the humour in every experience and learn to laugh out loud, especially at your own gaffes. Keeping a reserve of ‘happiness boosters’ might also help you to trip through the days more light-heartedly. Your happiness booster can be a simple thing like a chocolate treat, a joke book, or the picture of a favourite person; a happiness boosters can also be a special treat like travel, a theatre outing or a special bottle of wine.
Practice gratitude. Focus on the blessings of your life and feel the smile begin in your eyes and spread through your face.
Negative thinking affects everyone from time to time. On some days life just feels difficult and stressful. The key is to recognize the patterns of negative thinking and purposefully change your thoughts. When an attack of negativity happens, don’t let it escalate to your face. Consciously create a smile and shift your thinking. This process requires constant awareness but gradually positive thinking will become the new habit. It will be reflected in the twinkle in your eyes, the beauty of your happy face and the joy in your heart.
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