What Is There to Smile About?

Written by Jessie Sawyers


Posted on April 19 2018

I shared time with Mom the other day. We happened to witness a toddler, mid-tantrum, kick off their rain boots while being carried along a crosswalk as they wailed and writhed in the arms of their adult caregiver. We laughed at the absurdity of it all, as did the adult struggling to hold them. This sparked Mom’s memory. First, she started by saying, “I lucked out because you girls never threw tantrums like that!” But then she went on to say something I’d never heard before. She said, “Well, but you had a tough go of it with everything you dealt with. I don’t think you even smiled the entire first year of your life because you were in such pain.”

The entire first year of my life. WHAT.

It’s fascinating to hear details about the earliest years of life in this body. It doesn’t really surprise me to hear that I never smiled my first year of life because this same body, now in the midst of its third decade, still has its discomforts. I have come to befriend much physical pain over the years that I can recall, some of it hauntingly visceral.

In the spirit of making the best of things, to this I will speak on RESILIENCE.

Jessie Sawyers, founder of Getting Unlocked, as a baby

Toughness; The ability to bounce back quickly; To recover readily; Succeeds in the face of adversity.

Hmph... those descriptors sound a bit rigid. Let's expand it further, shall we?

    1. Seeks out new experiences
    2. Independent
    3. Resourceful
    4. Embodies fortitude
    5. Adaptive, open to change
    6. Embraces vulnerability and uncertainty
    7. Allows for ease
    8. Positive Orientation - Important biological function underlying an individual’s need to grow, to flourish, to successfully cope with life in spite of occurring adversities, failures, and losses, as well as to keep on caring about living in the face of aging
    9. Internal Locus of Control - one believes one has more power than one's circumstances to affect achievements
According to an article by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker, in which she interviewed clinical psychologist George Bonanno, head of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Columbia University, Konnikova shared this from Bonanno about resilience,

"'All of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. [...] When it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others?' One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? 'Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic.'” 

When faced with challenges, do you rise above or crumble under their weight? According to Bonanno and other researchers, if you do find it difficult to stand strong, the good news is that resilience can be learned.

When I find myself starting to suffer an experience I'm having, whatever it may be, I think about the following:

May you be open, discerning, and lighthearted.
May you weather the storms and trust in your ability to tend to whatever might come.
May you not retract from experience as a means to avoid being challenged.
May you remember your power to choose.
May you rest often and never give up.
May you stoke the fire in your own eyes.

We all have our struggles. We all encounter the unexpected, the sometimes devastating, and we are all faced with learning to live with loss.

So... what is there to smile about?

Within the course of my life, it has been the acknowledgment of cycles, of the calm before AND after the storm (and many times even during); the way my eyes light up in awe of nature and in fortuitous close connections with other humans; the way I am changed for the better by the many forces of humans with whom I collide; the way words like beauty and love are undeniably abstract and subjective, and, yet, when utilized bring something to my life for which I have not yet found the words. It’s like the use and experience of/with/through them somehow makes me not care that there is no inherent meaning of which I am aware, but that the meaning we choose to assign in the context of our lives and relationships is what actually matters when nothing seems absolute.

And furthermore, I love when smiles emerge from a space in which reason is utterly unnecessary: Loving connection, surpassing real and perceived limitations, sharing human touch, bringing ease to another being, humor in tough circumstances, feeling at home in this skin, being gifted care, and my favorite - finding joy where it has been dismissed.

May you continue to stoke the fire in YOUR eyes.

Onward in appreciation,


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:  Does resilience come naturally for you? If not, in what areas of life would you like to become more resilient? Share in the comments below. 



Leave a Comment