Clary sat in front ofa mirror, one ofthose with light bulbs all the way around its sides. He painted a big red smile on his face, and then drew a black line around the edge to highlight it. He painted on some wide-open, bright eyes that seemed to twinkle with mirth. On top of his head he placed a ginger-colored, unruly wig of hair, then a crooked top hat with a big yellow flower on the front. He ran a plastic tube from the flower down the back of his head, over his shoulder and along his arm. He pulled on a big floppy jacket with brightly colored checks and pushed the tube into a big bulb of water in his pocket. Finally, he slipped into a pair of overgrown shoes and carefully stepped out of his caravan, walking through the canvas flap of the big tent and entering the arena. Almost as soon as the crowd of people saw him they burst out laughing. You see, Clary was the circus clown.
He tripped over his long floppy shoes and people laughed out loud. He walked up to a person in the front row and squeezed the bulb in his pocket. As the flower squirted water over that man, the people laughed even louder. There was no doubt about it, thought the ringmaster, Clary was definitely the funniest clown ever.
After the show Herman, the trapeze artist, visited Clary in his caravan. Clary was wiping the smile off his face, and underneath the makeup his real mouth didn't lift up at the corners at all. As he wiped away the sparkling painted eyes, his own eyes looked dull and sad.
"What's up?" asked Herman.
"Well," answered Clary, "it's easy to make other people laugh, but I can't laugh myself. Even back at school I found it easier to make others laugh. I felt different from the other kids. I wasn't good at sports like most of them and I didn't really excel in my studies. In fact, I was often at the bottom of the class—but one thing I could do was to get others to laugh. I would trip over like I do when I enter the circus ring and the kids would laugh. If I went to eat a sandwich at lunch and it pushed up my nose instead of going into my mouth, they would think it was funny. I guess I did what I did well, and went on being the class clown, but I never felt really happy."
"Okay," said Herman, feeling sorry for his friend. "If a laugh is difficult for you, perhaps a smile might be easier." They both stood and looked in the mirror as Clary attempted a smile.
"Not good enough," announced Herman.
"What do you mean?" asked Clary.
"All you did," replied Herman, "was lift the sides of your lips a little. That's not good enough. I remember reading a while ago that a brain doctor named Dr. Duchenne, who lived more than a hundred years ago, would stick needles into people's faces and give them electric shocks through the needles to try and stimulate the facial muscles. One of the things that Dr. Duchenne found was that there's a difference between a pretend smile and a genuine smile. When we pretend to smile we just lift the corners of our mouth like you did, but when we genuinely smile, we raise the muscles in our cheeks and around our eyes. I know I'm sounding a bit like a football coach, but come on, let's get all those facial muscles working."
"Better," announced Herman. "Here is your homework: Before you leave your caravan each morning, sit in front of your mirror and practice a genuine Dr. Duchenne smile."
Though they saw each other around the circus, neither mentioned the smiling exercise until a week later, when Herman entered Clary's caravan after a performance.
"Let's see that smile," he said. "How does that feel?"
"Good," said Clary, with a genuine Dr. Duchenne smile.
"Just as it should do," announced Herman, confidently. "You see, for a long time scientists thought that we laugh when we're happy and cry when we're sad. But now their research is showing that if you put a smile on your face, you feel happier and if you start to frown, you feel sad. Now, for the next step, let's try a laugh."
They both looked in the mirror again. Clary was showing a genuine smile. "Okay," said Herman, "open your mouth and put one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest and start to laugh. Notice what it looks like in the mirror. Feel what is happening in your stomach and chest."
Clary laughed. Hey, it was possible. He could do it.
"This is infectious," said Herman, laughing with him. When they realized they were laughing so heartily at nothing, they laughed even louder and more heartily.
Now when Clary paints a smile on his face for the circus, it follows the lines of the Dr. Duchenne smile that is already there, and his own eyes twinkle with laughter under the painted ones. You see, Clary is a clown who can help other people laugh . . . and can laugh himself.
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