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Smile, It’s Thanksgiving!

Philippians 4:4-9

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

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Little Johnny and his family were having Sunday dinner at his grandmother’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served.

When little Johnny received his plate he started eating right away.

“Johnny, wait until we say our prayer.”

“I don’t have to,” the boy replied.

“Of course you do,” his mother insisted. “We say a prayer before eating at our house.”

“That’s at our house,” Johnny explained, “but this is Grandma’s house, and she knows how to cook.”

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Well, if you find yourself like little Johnny, feeling you only have to pray to ward off some disaster, gastronomic or otherwise, then do I have something for you today. Thanksgiving is just around the corner again, and here come all those reminders to be thankful. In the passage we just read, Paul encourages us to “rejoice always” and to do everything, particulary our praying, with thanksgiving.

Despite what you have heard and will hear that everyday should be a Thanksgiving day, or we should do thanks-living instead of thanksgiving, or any of the other clever phrases that are bandied about at this time of year, the truth is we hear a lot about being thankful, but beyond that don’t do much about it.

We do some things to express our thanks. I grew up in a household where we always said a prayer of thanks before meals, and Debbie and I still do that today. We are thankful for what we have to eat, and we stop and acknowledge that God is the giver of not only everything, but this particular meal we’re about to enjoy. If we’re with other folks, I usually say, “Well, let me pray for this and then we can all eat.” Which is received in the spirit I intend it — one of thanksgiving to God. Plus, I keep it short, out of respect for others who do not normally have this practice, and so the food won’t get cold.

But that aside, how do we rejoice always? Or is that just one of those really nice sounding spiritual aphorisms that we all say, but few of us do, or even know how to do? Well, I think I might have the answer for you tonight. I did not discover this, and I’ll tell who I got it from in a moment, but here is the secret to rejoicing always: Smile.

Yep, that’s it — smile. Right about now you’re wondering if you can get a refund on your ticket, but then you’re remembering that you didn’t actually have to pay to get in, so you can relax. I’m serious. Smiling is the key to this whole business of thanksgiving. Here’s what smiling can do for you:

• 72% of people think of those who smile frequently as being more confident and successful.

• 86% of people say that they are more likely to strike up conversations with strangers if they are smiling.

• Bosses are 12% more likely to promote people who smile a lot.

• Research shows that 65% of communication is non-verbal (many claim an even higher percentage).

• Non-verbal communication comprises facial expressions, eye movement, gestures, posture, and all other bodily signs-primarily facial expressions.

• The effects of a smile are so powerful that even a smile on the telephone produces positive results.

• When someone comes into a room, people are automatically drawn to their face, and a smile provides a warm greeting.

• Studies show that happiness is a by-product of smiling, not the other way around as most people assume.

• Research shows that when two people in conversation use the same kind of body movements and gestures (such as smiling), they will experience greater empathy for each other, which they may not even consciously notice.

So, this is not bad. Smiling actually does more than give you little smile lines, for which the cosmetic companies have developed remedies, as if smiling were detrimental to your health. Just the opposite — smiling is good for you, not to mention the folks that have to look at you. As a matter of fact, not only is the act of smiling good for you, but even the word S-M-I-L-E brings a…well, you guessed it… smile to our faces. So much so that here are some of the acronyms that organizations have made from the world SMILE.

SMILE  Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program
SMILE  Semiconductor Microcavity Light Emitter
SMILE  Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting
SMILE  Signal, Mirror, Interior, Lights, Engine (drivers education)
SMILE  Single Mothers in A Learning Environment
SMILE  Smart Management Interface Local Exchange
SMILE  Smart-Power ICs (Integrated Circuits) for Lighting Applications
SMILE  Spatial Multiplexing of Local Elements
SMILE  Spiritually Minded Is Life Eternal
SMILE  Stanford Medicine Information and Learning Environment
SMILE  Students Making It a Little Easier (freshman orientation in West Caldwell NJ)
SMILE  Students’ Mobilization Initiative for Learning Through Exposure (Indian youth initiative)

Okay, so some of these are better than others, but the point is we like the word SMILE. Then how do we do this? Well here are a few pointers —

Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.

Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.

When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”

Spend time with people who have successfully incorporated humor into their lives. These are people who naturally take life lightly, who routinely find ordinary events hysterical. Their points of view and their laughter are contagious.

Dr. Dale Jorgenson, a social organizational psychologist, has found that smiling at others may benefit the smiler in that, when you smile at people, they are more likely to smile at you. The more often this happens, the better the mood of the smiler. When reviewing self-reports handed in by students assisting with his smile research, he correlated the frequency of returned smiles with how favorable their moods were.

“The correlation between the number of smiles they reported receiving in return and their mood was extremely high (80 percent or better),” he said. “The more they got smiled at in return, the more favorable their mood was.”

The evidence is in — smiling is good for us, for others, and produces real positive results in our lives. But, what about the times you don’t feel like smiling. When you’re sad, depressed, grieving, angry, or hurt. How do you “rejoice always” then?

Listen to the story of Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, who is 81-years old now. Nhat Hanh was born in Viet Nam in 1926, became a Buddhist monk as a teenager, and grew up in a country torn apart by war his entire life. Nhat Hanh founded the United Buddhist Church, and worked for peace in his country. He was a friend of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who said he felt closer to Nhat Hanh than many Christians with whom he knew.

Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace during and after the Viet Nam war. The communist regime in Viet Nam was so suspicious of Nhat Hanh, that he was exiled from his native land for decades, only returning in 2005 to give some talks and visit his fellow monks again.

Nhat Hanh created what he called “engaged Buddhism” — today we would call it “missional” — Buddhism that was involved in helping the victims of war, and then other marginalized people around the world.

Buddhism is predicated upon the idea that all of our suffering is caused by ignorance, and so Buddhists seek enlightenment which means an end to suffering. But Thich Nhat Hanh also believes that there are practical ways in which we can make this world, and our lives, better. He tells his students, “To suffer is not enough. You must enjoy the blue sky, a baby’s eyes, the green grass.” Thich Nhat Hanh also founded a Thanksgiving Day for Buddhists, patterned after the American Thanksgiving, because he thought they needed a day to give thanks.

In Buddhism, there are meditation exercises. Now we are not going to become Buddhists tonight, but one that I find particularly helpful is this: Sit quietly for a moment and as you breath in say, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.” And you calm yourself.

Then, you say, “Breathing out, I smile.” And you smile. Really.

I was listening to a CD of Thich Nhat Hanh giving this talk on “Being Peace” as he leads the audience in this exercise. I guess he has his eyes open, because he says gently, “You do not smile so much. Let’s try again.” Again, the “breathing in, I calm body and mind” then, “breathing out, I smile.” Still not satisfied with the results, he tells the audience, “Maybe you can practice some more later.”

Listen to what Nhat Hanh says about smiling:

“Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile,we have to try. Just as when we wish each other “Good morning” it must be a real “Good morning.” Recently a friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.” I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow.”

“A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile.”

“Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”

To which I would add, if we are not able to smile, the world will not know that we know the Prince of Peace.

And that’s it. Smiling. Which amazingly does change your frame of mind, your physiology, and your life. And even in those times of great sadness or disappointment, if we can smile at those experiences, we can find our way through. We smile, not because we seek enlightenment, but because we seek the Light of God. We smile because we know that God is, in Rick Warren’s words, “Bigger and better and closer than we can imagine.” We smile because we are thankful. Go ahead, try it. Smile, it’s Thanksgiving!