Ken Delo sings "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella" on the Lawrence Welk Show.
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[imgcontainer]Ken Delo sings "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella" on the Lawrence Welk Show.[/imgcontainer]

When a close acquaintance of mine said she had tickets to a Barry Manilow concert, my one word first reaction was to ask “Why?”  

Before becoming a successful entertainer, Manilow got his start writing advertising jingles. To me, his pop songs are the same type of commercial-sounding, easy-going, never-ending sound loops called ear worms, that go round and round in people’s heads.

In defense of Barry’s pleasant sounding choral repetition, my friend explained that the crowd will be smiling, mellow and grooving to the music— probably for weeks after—as narcotic-like lyrics take over their brains.

“It should be a good time” she said.

The only way to get rid of ear worms is to replace them with another ear worm. That might mean a trip to Disneyland this summer for a dose of the deepest burrowing song of all time, “It’s a Small World.”

But it’s not just Disney or Manilow that make folks smile and sway. A song written a long time ago in 1927 and performed by Bing Crosby 30 years later, “Let a Smile be Your Umbrella” lightened everyone’s rainy day. And in 1988, Bobby McFerrin recorded his frown wiping a cappella , “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Disney, Manilow, McFerrin and Crosby all prove that the chicken-or-egg question of what truly makes people happy is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Today’s latest research confirms another primordial fact: that it’s hard for people to feel down if the corners of their mouths turn up, because a recent issue of Scientific American magazine has revealed simply that people who smile really do feel happier than those who don’t.

Charles Darwin first wrote in 1872 that “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensi­fies it.” Though what Darwin wrote has to some extent been discredited, more recent research claims that facial expressions of happiness do affect the way we feel. Studies also show that even people who held a lead pencil in their mouths in such a way that made frowning impossible were happier than those who didn’t.

Backing that up are satisfied Botox patients, seemingly because their injections physically prevent frowning.

The explanation of why this works is that smiling creates its own feedback loop, much the same as happy ear-worm songs, to affirm our best feelings. It all comes down to the fact that a smile really can be your umbrella.

But some umbrellas leak.

Even though it can bring a smile, most people would agree, sarcasm isn’t always funny, especially to its victims.

That’s because initial sarcastic smirks reinforce negative thoughts they help to create which in turn eliminates smiling.

One of the better known modern celebrities of sarcasm is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  According to a recent study of him and his peers, Justice Scalia’s humor has the sharpest edge. No one knows if it’s calculated to throw lawyers off their stride, or a natural part of his personality.

Or maybe it just comes naturally after listening to decades of slanted arguments.

Truth, Justice, and the American way are not always reflected by our actions, our laws or our politics. Some of legislators’ law-making is aimed at special interests and the typical give-and-take of politics. It all reminds me of a piece of advice I received from an experienced politician who suggested that when dealing with other politicians, it’s always best to “smile like an idiot and let them wonder what you’re up to.” 

For me, the idiot part comes easy.

[imgcontainer] [img:laughter_therapy_ophjs.jpg] Is laughter the best medicine? Probably not, but it surely doesn't hurt your chances. [/imgcontainer]

Not long ago, on a particularly down day, I tested the smile theory while reflecting on the plight of family farmers and ranchers as we battle in Congress and the courts for our basic right to exist. As I drove down Main Street of our little town, I smiled the biggest grin I could manage, and suddenly all my dark thoughts disappeared.

It really worked—even though a few folks in town probably wondered what that idiot was smiling about.

There’s not much to be happy about considering Missouri’s November election, when voters were convinced that an ill-defined amendment to our state constitution guaranteed everyone the right to farm. It was a classic ear-worm infection where the words “protect family farms” were repeated over and over until people believed them.

But the simple majority vote in favor failed to recognize some very important facts. For one thing, access to land and capital are the main deterrents to any beginning farmer. Equally important is sovereignty of markets, currently infringed in state and nation by corporate monopolies.

That’s partly because according to Supreme Court rulings, huge wealthy corporations that control those markets are corporate citizens with equal rights just like mine and yours.

Now our state constitution protects big (the ones who control, buy and sell my products while competing directly with me) corporations’ right to perform agriculture their own way, usually at the expense of family farms, our environment and maybe even our health.

The only way to fight this thing was through the courts. Our state Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of Amendment 1 in February.

Already fought in courts over the last several years have been the rights of U.S. cattlemen and consumers to know where their beef comes from. Under a farm bill law known simply as COOL (country of origin labeling), low quality foreign imports of beef would be allowed to occupy grocery store display cases alongside our own products, but all would be labeled according to where they’re from. Opponents, mostly foreign cartels and multinational meat packers masquerading as U.S. cattlemen, oppose any effort at labeling.

We’ve defended COOL in the courts. Now Congress has the last say. The jury’s still out on that.

And juries haven’t been selected yet regarding the rights of multinational corporation Syngenta to release seed of an unapproved GMO corn variety. Their action resulted in lost markets and lower prices for corn farmers, and cost Cargill Inc.a ton of money when China rejected cargoes of contaminated corn. 

On behalf of farmers, and Cargill, lawyers are gearing up to recover those losses.

More lawsuits surround a pipeline for Canadian oil, with China as its primary investor.. Keystone XL would pump heavy tar sand oil at high pressure across aquifers and rivers through the heart of American farm country. Since that oil is headed for the Texas gulf coast and export, the greatest benefit to Americans would be about 35 permanent jobs nationwide.

On the other hand continued development of wind energy across just 20 Nebraska counties could deliver over 1,100 permanent, non-polluting, mostly rural, carbon free jobs. It would create investment, generate lease income for landowners, and expand the rural tax base.

Success or failure for many of us today rests in the hands of courts, which may or may not sympathize with individual rights of small family-farm agriculture. It’s all up in the air.

Other than litigation, how will a poor farmer like me ever cope?

Scientifically speaking, I’ll just have to grin and bear it. 

Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

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