For a few years now, my school runs have been punctuated by a brief meeting with Tony. He is the lollipop man who every day, greets parents and children with a friendly greeting and a bright smile. He has watched little ones grow from pushchair to walking, takes the time to recognise and remember everyone and is unfailingly cheerful.
Some days I’m sure Tony doesn’t feel like smiling. Some days I certainly don’t. Days that are biting cold or drizzly, days when I’m late, flustered and the toast has landed the wrong way up. But saying ‘Good Morning’ to Tony forces me to smile. Admittedly this isn’t always genuine – I’m a polite people pleaser after all, but on hard mornings, this is often the first smile of the day (sorry family!).
When you smile, it sends a message to your brain. A message saying that all is well. Countless research has found that smiling actually increases happiness. Your brain can’t actually tell if it’s a real or fake smile and a smile can start to release feel good chemicals – making you feel more positive. More information on this can be found here. As well as the direct neural feedback, in the real world you also get the added advantage of social feedback. Smiles are infectious. So even if you don’t feel much happier, the people around you are more likely to smile, and that can improve your mood as well. Win Win!
And its those little moments of positive connections that can make all the difference.
Last week I went to do a Relax Kids session in a local school. At the end of the day, I experienced crossing the road with another lollipop man. I was upset that no one seemed to thank him! I made sure I gave him my best Polyanna smile and a warm ‘Thank you’. He didn’t respond. I wondered which came first – the chicken or the egg. I wondered if he was grumpy and the parents stopped bothering trying to have any positive interaction, or if he hated his job because he had a load of rude parents who never said thank you. Either way, I’m sure there was some mirroring going on.
We’ve all done it; mirroring a partner’s bad mood or getting caught up in a moaning spiral at work. I have a few friends who I actively seek out because their positivity is infectious. Time spent with them is energising and smiley and I always come away feeling better. I try to remember that I can control how I’m feeling by choosing to act in a certain way – both physically and behaviourally – not only my feelings, but the people around me will reinforce them.
Its obvious which lollipop man enjoys his job the most. Positive connections with others must make Tony’s job so much more enjoyable. AND he gets LOADS of presents and a huge collection at Christmas and the end of the school year!
In our Relax Kids sessions we do lots of fun things to teach how we can draw attention to our bodies and see the impact making changes can affect our feelings. We learn that our brains will notice when we have our heads held high and shoulders back – and make us feel more confident. Smiles and laughter are contagious and make us feel good and of course, learning ways to control and notice how we feel underpin a lot of our work. The more we practice, the more we strengthen those positive neural pathways and the better we get.