They can’t all be mad! All those faces I see behind the wheel, or walking in and out of stores, or gripping carts as they navigate grocery aisles. There has to be more joyful souls out there than it appears. There just has to.
People watching is my passion, and I’ve spent lots of time — on purpose — sitting in parking lots to watch people come and go. I watch them as they walk down the street, in and out of big box stores, and rushing into markets. 99% of the faces are extremely serious, sometimes appearing grumpy, mean or even mad. This flood of stern faces usually confirms for me Thoreau’s famous quote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.
But then I looked at myself. Unless I was queued with a 3-2-1 to smile, candid photographs of my own face often appear pretty grim. This discovery was shocking because I’m actually happy as a clam in these shots, but you’d never know it.
This got me thinking about the idea of a default face. By definition “default” is a preselected option when no alternative is specified, so default in this case is the position my face falls into automatically. Repetition has programmed it. We work a lot to develop a similar condition in dance, repeating a move 50 times until muscle memory takes over to automate the movement.
A women down the street goes by my house on her daily walk and, frankly, looked kind of mean to me when we first moved in. Her eyes were always lasered straight ahead. She never looked right. She never looked left. Not even when I walked passed her. And I was new so did sort of expect a welcoming smile. Fast forward six months. We’ve officially met and, lo and behold, she’s nice as pie. Just much quieter and more reserved than me.
So… all those faces I’ve been observing over the years, all those faces I’ve judged to be living miserable lives? WRONG. If you’re having a bad day or a bad week, fine, your face can’t help but reflect it. But if life is good or even just “not bad”, altering that default face will reflect the person you really are.
I’m a people person so I’m checking in with my face more often these days. All it takes to connect is the slightest of smiles. Grinning isn’t necessary. Just curving my mouth up a little often prompts a smile or a word from the person standing in line next to me.
I don’t want to keep looking in the mirror, so I’m not sure how to re-program my default mode other than asking my husband to play a game of “Guess my mood”. Just being aware of it is helping, though, so maybe I won’t have to trash the next photo.