Smile and Your Heart Is Aching

In English Yleinen
This is the day. The day when something must be done. I know that. I have prepared for that. I’m ready, I know I am. Just when I’m starting it happens. Again!

I don’t know if there is a real word for it, but I have named it the Big Mind Explosion. If you have experienced it, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s the moment when your mind is filled with everything you ever had to do, but you didn’t, with everything there is to do (even the very minor things) and everything you ever wanted to do. Cleaning the kitchen. Not only doing the dishes but also a total organizing of the drawer you never even use. Calling your friend. Yes, you called her yesterday and the day before that, but there is this one thing you just remembered that happened in your childhood years ago, and you just need to get it out of your chest right now. It is obvious that if kept any longer, that dramatic memory might cause some serious mental issues. That’s something to take very seriously.

There’s also the training program you have neglected for a few weeks. Ok, maybe a few moths would be a more accurate expression. But that program cannot be neglected anymore. But why settle for training of one day when clearly you can compensate for also all the exercises you missed. I’m not even going to go to the wonderous world of Internet and the social media. Let’s just say that it might be possible to spend some time in that realm also…

I know there’s a word for that. I even know the word. Procrastination. Yes, the word is procrastination. I don’t like that word. It has negative connotation. It’s almost as if the word cries to me: “Look at the mirror, go deep into yourself and stop coming up with excuses!” Well, I don’t like to be pushed. Neither do I like to be placed in front of a mirror. When you do so, there’s just always something in your face, just next to your nose, or maybe in your hair. Sometimes even in both: in your face and in your hair! Very uncomfortable situations… Anyway, the word ‘procrastination’ causes me nightmares. And the nightmare is also in my list of “words to be avoided”. In fact, it’s just below the word procrastination. So, in order to avoid both the unpleasant word (procrastination) and its unpleasant consequences (nightmares), I will replace the word procrastination with something else, something little more positive. I will replace it with word smile.

I became aware of my exceptional smiling skills in high school. Not that I wasn’t smiling before. In fact, I am sure my ability to smile, no matter what, is innate and something I have always done very naturally. But it was in high school when it first hit me. It was during the test week. I had one extremely important test coming and I needed to read a lot. And I did. I read Harry Potter. Two Harry Potters to be exact. I need to admit that realizing the smiling was not one of finest moments. It did not make me smile.

Since that day, I have learned something about smiling and the mechanisms behind it. I know a little about intrinsic motivation and how it is challenged by have to’s: schedule, possible evaluation, deadline, etc. I’m not going to bore you with details (I’ll save the boring bites for later, since motivation is sort of one of the main topics in my dissertation) so let’s just say, that it is somewhat depressing to realize that knowing about the smiling doesn’t automatically lead to being able to get that stupid grin off your face.

As a skilled smiler, I have come up with all kinds of ideas on how to get a serious expression. Many inoperative ideas and only one thing that has actually kind of worked: It doesn’t stop me from smiling but it does make my life even just a little bit worse. I came up with the idea by accident. There was this thing, as always, that I needed to do. And as always, I smiled. My face was probably already cramping for all the big smiles. My friend was watching my twitching face, probably feeling sorry, and gave me a piece of advice: Make a “to-do-list”. As you know, it’s a list with all the things there is to do. Very beneficial and makes things more efficient. At least so I was told. So, I gave it a try. And just like that, after just a few smiles, my list was done. I smiled, simply a happy smile this time, thinking all the smiling was wiped away with the list.

I was wrong. I found the list very boring. It never had any surprises, expect the one time my daughter had drawn on it. I know all the listed things and the making of a list of them did not make me want to smile any less. In fact, I think I wanted to smile more than ever when I could, at a glance, see all the undesired things waiting for me, calling me by name. I panicked, grabbed the list and tore it apart. Very mature, I know. I screamed I would never ever make any “to-do-lists” again. Instead, I went even further and declared I would make my own list the “not-to-do-list”. So that was exactly what I did. The List. Instead of listing all the things I needed to do, I listed all the things I didn’t need to do, everything I maybe could do but just didn’t feel like it and everything there was to do but that were not important. After finishing, I congratulated myself for being so clever and fooling the almighty “to-do-list”.

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To my big amazement, my The List, the “not-to-do-list” turned out to be valuable, besides my big protest against all evil and inequality of the world and flattering, to my ego. I realized it the next time I had a smiling day, a day when there was something big to be done. Normally, those days were all about smile after smile, but this time turned it out to be different. When my face was turning into a smile because of The Big Mind Explosion reminded me the car needed to be washed right now, another thing popped into my mind. My ‘The List’. Wasn’t there something about cleaning and washing things inside and outside the house if it wasn’t decided before? I stopped smiling until another good idea came into my mind, giving me a grin: Instead of doing what I was supposed to, I needed to do some Online shopping. Yes, the very important shoes needed to be bought. But no, wait, that was also in my “not-to-do-list”, wasn’t it? I needed to check it immediately (note: not after a smile) and yes, there it was: “No shopping (online included)”, right after the “Don’t use the social media”. Well, it was my list. The one that made me really proud. I obviously couldn’t help but to follow my superior list. And just like that, my smiling was gone, for at least for that day, and I noticed carrying out chore after chore with a serious face. That day I learned something. I learned that instead of just concentrating on what to do, I also needed to clarify what not to do!

I’m a smiler. Still. What can you do when you just have such a happy personality? However, I have learned, at some extent, to decide when to smile and for how long to smile. At least I have avoided all the bigger cramps after my discovery of “Not-to-do-list”. Now, when the day comes, the day when something needs to be done, I am ready. I am ready with not just one list, but with two: “To-do-list” and “Not-to-do-list”. I guess it’s not all about focusing on the result, but also controlling the competing voices. It’s not that smiling is all bad. It’s about being in control on when to smile and what to smile about. Keep smiling, but do it on your terms!

Johanna Huhtamäki
Doctoral student


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