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Start with a Smile (even a half-smile will do!)

Posted on Tue, Aug 4, 2020 By:
Posted in: blogMental Health & Mindfulness

Hey everyone, how did you start your day today?

I’ve come to believe (the believing has come faster than the practicing!) that the way in which we start our day will influence the kind of day we have. You probably know this already.  It takes me a little longer to get on board with these things!

Brene Brown says that many of us (yup, me!) wake up already in a state of “not enough” or scarcity.  We wake up thinking “wow, I’m so tired.  I did not get enough sleep.  This is going to be a rough day”. When we start our day allowing thoughts of scarcity to forecast struggle and hardship, isn’t that certainly what we’re going to get?

I am NOT a morning person.  Repeat:  NOT. And I feel too groggy in the morning to actually pay attention to my thoughts. But they are there, and they are certainly forecasting my 24-hour future.

What if, as soon as we started to wake from the night’s sleep, even before we placed our feet on the floor, we filled ourselves with thoughts of strength, hope, and gladness – and with intention?? Would that make a difference in your day? I know it would for me.

I came across a gloriously smart & simple article called “A Zen master’s tips for staying sane in challenging times” at  It outlines Thich Nhat Hanh’s key teachings on the art of living each day well. He starts with by suggesting that we “guard the morning (and start it gently)” with a smile. And to “make the vow to live every hour of the day deeply, with compassion”.  WOW. That’s what I want to do!! I also think that adding an intention to my morning smile, such as “this is going to be a great day!”, or “I am full of energy to face the day I’ve been blessed with” will help fuel my mind and body to realize just that kind of a day.

This suggestion from the zen master also reminds me of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s strategy of “half-smiling” that she teaches to participants of her Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She explains, in her memoir “Building a Life Worth Living”, that half-smiling allows us to accept reality into the body. For e.g., half-smiling while we are thinking about something or someone we don’t like often creates a greater feeling of acceptance and peace. In our current struggle with COVID-19, thinking about the future with the coronavirus wearing a half-smile (underneath the mask! haha), may allow us to feel a greater sense of hope, calm, and understanding during this pandemic. Why not try it?

One more thing for your consideration…in our Emotion Commotion workshop at CASS, we teach clients to use “willing hands” when experiencing a challenging situation.  This is akin to half-smiling.  While stress can naturally cause the muscles in our hands to tighten into a fist, preparing to fight or flight, intentionally opening up our fingers and facing our palms upwards, allows us to reverse the tension of our minds/bodies, receive the present moment, and open up to a new feeling. Dr. Linehan claims that we can’t be angry and have willing hands at the same time! I’ve included a link to her you tube explanation and demonstration of willing hands, below.

During this time of unprecedented struggle, why not try starting your day with a half-smile, willing hands, and a positive affirmation, intentionally focussing on all the blessings this day could offer? It doesn’t take much time or energy, and it could make a remarkable difference to your day!

Wishing you a wonderfully blessed day today,

stay well,



  1. Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.
  3. Linehan, M.M. (2020). Building a life worth living: A memoir. New York: Random House.

1. Marsha Linehan talks about “willing hands”:

2. Take a look at the Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook from The Wellness Society,  if you haven’t already. They have a lot of different resources, including worksheets, workbooks, and coloring sheets, for general mental health. Available at:

3. Check out this site for a list of positive affirmations:

4. I found these positive psychology prompt cards for creating an intentional focus on the positive that is happening in people’s lives. Available at:

5. A gratitude journal is an amazing way to focus on the positive. A template is available at:

Especially for people we work with

1. Talk to people about how half-smiling and willing hands work. Watch Marsha’s video together. Encourage people to try it and practice it. When people are struggling with tough emotions, prompt them to half-smile, open to willing hands, or both. Model and coach. Then, debrief and identify how/whether the strategies make a difference in how people feel.

2. Take a look at the positive affirmations list at Get Self Help (link above). Encourage people to identify the positive affirmations that help them feel better about themselves and about their day. Then, in your discussions with people about things they are struggling with, talk about the positive affirmations that can help them get through the struggle a little easier.

3. Download the “positive psychology prompt cards” (link above) for a fun way to engage people in discussion about what is going well and what they are doing well.  A great way to focus on the positive!

4. Print out the “gratitude journal” template from therapist aid (link above).  It offers ideas for recognizing three good things that happened every day. If you remember from one of my blogs a few weeks ago, gratitude is the antidote to anxiety!

5. Take a look at the CASS you tube page where a colleague and I recorded a video about willing hands, half- smiling, and positive affirmations, as well as other stress management strategies. Sometimes videos are a better medium for teaching people new skills, especially physical ones! At:

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