by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

What is the most recognized symbol in the world? A happy face.

Drawing a simple happy face is not, however, a modern phenomenon. In fact, researchers of ancient hieroglyphs have discovered some remarkably similar images to the grinning character we’ve come to know and love today. A smile has apparently long had a similar meaning in every language and culture.

Do you ever have days when a smile is hard to come by? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t bring a smile to your face. Your world feels so consumed with stress, grief or anguish that you feel there is nothing to smile about, nothing to look forward to, no hope for a happier day.

I can’t help but be reminded of a couple of famous songs. Nat King Cole’s “Smile” is the first one that comes to mind, with lyrics such as “Smile though your heart is aching … smile through your fear and sorrow … you’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.”

Next is the song from the Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie” — “Put on a Happy Face.” Its lyrics “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face” always makes me smile. And there are more lines that pep me up: “Brush off the clouds and cheer up … take off the gloomy mask of tragedy … pick out a pleasant outlook … wipe off that full of doubt look.”

And I love this remedy for what ails you: “If you’re feeling cross and bitterish, don’t sit and whine, think of banana split and licorice, and you’ll feel fine.”

Perhaps you may be a bit unsure that such a philosophy could bring positive and practical results. Yet even recent medical research has concluded that happy people live longer and lead healthier lives. But perhaps you’re thinking: Being happy is easier to say than do.

When our daughter was a toddler and lost her sunny disposition, we would tell her to go back to her room and find her happy face and come back when she found it. Generally, it would not be long before she would join us again with the biggest and grandest grin possible on such a little face. And her precious smile resulted in smiles from me and her daddy.

But maybe you’re thinking that you have nothing to be happy about. Or maybe you’re thinking that you’ve tried and just can’t find happiness. So, how can you put on a happy face?

Actually, I don’t believe happiness is found. I think it’s chosen and lived. I recall once reading that happiness is not a destination, but a manner of traveling. The Bible encourages life choices such as “rejoice,” “be glad” and “shout for joy.” And there’s a promise that comes from choosing joy as a framework for approaching life, ” … ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12).

Have you ever tried giving the gift of a smile, even when you didn’t think you had anything to smile about? What if your smile could lift someone’s spirits, make someone feel better about himself, help someone to feel important, appreciated, wanted, accepted? Perhaps your smile would invite someone to share his troubles with you and give you a further opportunity to encourage, console, inspire. You just might discover that you are happiest when you give and do for others.

Still not happy? Change your expectations. My mamma has always said, “What goes around, comes around.” You bring your expectations into your experience. With joy as a foundation for your actions and attitude, everyone you meet and interact with will be blessed by your joyfulness.

Jesus provides much instruction that, when followed, assures our “joy might be full” (John 15:11). And the joy that Jesus promised cannot be taken from us (John 16:2). This joy is ours as we love one another. Loving as Jesus loved. Loving as God loves all of His children — impartially, unconditionally and eternally.

Choosing a joy-filled, spiritual approach to living enables us to stop negative thinking and talking. We can look for and identify the positives about a situation, an event, a project. If you feel irritated with your spouse, joy will help you remember and cherish the qualities you fell in love with. You will have joy in your work — no matter what kind of work it is — when you appreciate even one aspect that is satisfying.

Joy will help you put everything in perspective. A bump in the road is not the end of the journey. There is good to be found in every day and in every person. Look for the good, expect to see good, and don’t let a day go by without recognizing and appreciating the good in your day. And as my grandmother often reminded me, “Don’t ever go to bed mad.”

And in so doing … you’ll have something to smile about.