I’m injury prone—have been since I was in high school. While it’s slowed me down over the years, it’s never stopped me from pursuing my passion for exercise, my addiction to dopamine, and my need for keeping my body in motion.
My latest injury, sustained in a routine session at the gym, has proven deflating. When you have a drive to go—to compete, push yourself—the loss of mobility is a mindfuck. For me, exercise isn’t debatable. I work out every day. I need it physically, and more importantly, mentally.
Exercise makes me smile.
I was scheduled to drive to Spokane, Washington, this week for a surgical consult for a double hip replacement on my degenerative hips when, after my gym session, my physical therapist diagnosed me with what he believed to be a torn meniscus. I sat in the room for fifteen minutes, processing the blow.
Why the wait? I needed to smile.
Smiling doesn’t fix things. Smiling doesn’t make you immune to heartache or keep the tears away. But smiling is good medicine. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of a smile on our physiology.
I canceled my trip to Spokane. The hips would wait, first things first.
I recently asked my counselor, “What am I doing with my life?” His response, “Michael, you’re an inspirer of people.” For whatever reason, I’ve been dealt my fair share of hard shit. And just like anyone being dealt unfavorable cards, I get down, frustrated and discouraged. And yet, it seems I’m considered a positive, upbeat person. How is that?
I’ve realized there is power in seeing yourself through the eyes of others, especially at times like this. After my PT friend told me I’d likely need surgery, I found myself tumbling. Then I received his text, “Sorry about the poor prognosis. You just keep taking hits. The beauty though is you always conquer.” While his “always” is generous, I’m convinced that my effort to smile in the face of another unexpected diagnosis helped my friend see me in a favorable way. I thought back to my own words, from my book, Be Audacious.
“Next time you feel like crawling under a rock and disappearing from the world, try smiling. It’s simple, takes little energy, and poses no big risk. Simply try to stay afloat rather than attempting something heroic; it may not be the optimum time to take risks or be daring. Instead, consider these times to survive—to hunker down and endure. But even during these times, try forcing a smile. See what it does, not only for you but for the recipient. Do the little things that enhance your sense of well-being: feed a stray cat, open a door for a stranger, help an elder to the car with their groceries, smile.”
One day later a surgeon expressed his opinion that my knee may need more extensive surgery than my PT originally thought. They scheduled me for an MRI the next night at our local hospital. 8:30 PM, on a Friday night. The technician asked me if I’d ever been in an MRI. By my count, this was my tenth over the years. Safe to say, I’m a veteran of the noisy chamber. He looked a little shocked to hear that, and kindly asked me what kind of music I want to listen to.
It’s always Jack Johnson.
When I heard Jack’s voice over the thundering MRI machine, I smiled.
Smiling makes our lives better, and more importantly, it enhances the lives of those around us. There’s something karmic about smiling—it’s the ultimate measure of paying it forward. When you give a smile, you’ll often receive. And that can be a game-changer on a shitty day.
So, give it a try. But be forewarned, once you start, it’s hard to stop. The mini dopamine hit of giving and receiving a smile can become addictive.
In a most positive sense.
Keep smiling, Michael W. Leach