by Billy Gard
Take Me to Your Leader
Is Cheerfulness Immature?
Just Do It
A Leap of Faith
The Psychology of Cheerfulness
The Politics of Cheerfulness
Cheerfulness is Catching
Back to the Bible
Q & A
I like a man who grins when he fights.
- Winston Churchill
Furled eyebrows. A stoney, sensible expression. Looking down your nose "purposefully" at the ground straight ahead. This look which has long been a mark of respectability by the high and mighty can be seen in paintings of the ancient dignitaries. But, of course, that is the look of the past, and we have finally learned to lighten up and put on a happy face, as you can see by looking at people around you...right?
I dont think so!
What I see around me is that the severe look is making a comeback. And as is typical of trends, the young are leading the way in this.
Anyone who already knows me knows Im plainly from another planet. After all, I dont even spit on the ground as a greeting, loose one strap on my overalls (as a partial apology that Im wearing them), wear my knapsack on only one shoulder, wear headphones that you can hear 20 feet away, wear a shirt as long as a dress and pants that look like they are about to fall down (Im known for the opposite fault), wear a tattoo or body ring, splatter the backside of my vehicle with a mosaic of politically correct bumper stickers, wear a perpetual 5:00 shadow or the fashionable ever-so-small goatee, or have long flowing hair and go with a girl with a buzz. So how can you expect any cooperation from me when the serious look suddenly snaps into fashion?
Being one who spurns trends might make me out of touch with what people are really up to, and what is going on inside their minds. For instance, I am really wondering if todays adults have come to some kind of collective agreement - using nonverbal cues that I was too spaced out to notice - that displays of overt cheerfulness are regressive and inconsiderate of others emotional space. Im not talking about some new rule of social etiquette being passed down, for if any rule be laid down purposely, it is that smiling and cheerfulness are essentials of common courtesy. But what I am referring to is an act purely of collective instinct. For instance, you won't find any rule stipulated that one young man passing by another is supposed to spit on the ground to assure he is not gay, yet the rule is being followed to a tee as if it did exist. Something is eating a number of people here and there, so others pick up the protest signals from them and instinctively give social homeage to them by co-opting this attitude, until before you know it everybody whos not nonverbally illiterate is doing the same thing. Now you can spot a socially inept person a mile away by his good attitude.
I dont think we are even conscious of our assimilation of this collective seriousness. Indeed, were this to come to our awareness we would rebel against it at once. I seek to bring to awareness academically what cannot be observed directly because it is so subliminal. Once that is done it can be remedied.
You often hear in defense of cheerfulness that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I dont know about the physiological soundness of that statement, but it misses the point entirely. That's the lazy man's guide to happiness. I believe the point is supposed to be that cheerfulness is easier. But that is a lousy case for cheerfulness. I find it uses far more vital energy than frowning, when taking into account the entirety of the human constitution and not just the facial muscles. Whoever said cheerfulness is easier surely was addressing the adventursome set, those whose greatest rest lies in conquest. For that is easiest which one loves. Cheerfulness makes you feel so alive precisely because it expends great energy, like dancing or doing a cartwheel. A live body consumes more energy than a dead one.
It is a strong suspicion of mine that today's fellows are morose because they are afraid smiling makes them look like boys. If thats what they think, they are right. It does. That is what makes it so fun and it can only be a sign that it is doing something good for you. So if looking immature presents a problem for you, youd better forget about the natural high of being cheerful and find some face-saving substitute like beer.
One of the things making adults unable to relax their bodies and cheer up is that playfulness is known to break out, and you know how adults cannot handle that. The playful body language can only be successfully constrained by forbidding the happy mood that might inspire it (You gotta stop a rolling snowball before it becomes as big as a house). If playfulness presents a problem for you then you will not be able to handle being cheerful. You should know what hallmarks I speak of: kicking up your heels, skipping, humming (or for those who havent quite arrived yet, whistling), and a host of far subtler things, without necessarily being aware you are even doing them. Can you honestly say you have ever been, since turning 10, so happy you skipped? If you arent attracting any attention, you are definitely not in a good enough mood. There are not enough truely happy people for you to be able to keep a low profile when you feel cheerful. You have to be like a crowd to disappear into it. The inevitable question must arise, Boy you sure seem awfully spritely, and sometimes, in my case, it is simply What?
There is empirical evidence of happiness being a skill to be learned, and it is this: You have surely had those times when you refused to be comforted, even when life was a bed of roses and you were without excuse. Likewise you have had those times of euphoria, even when things were bleak and everyone around you was sullen about it and wondered what youve been smoking. This alone implies that cheerfulness and the circumstances that inspire it, however closely associated, remain separable entities. I suppose many people have been in stressful situations that cause their ears to wiggle involuntarily, but a small number of people have figured out how to it on purpose. I would guess that locating that part of your psyche that cheers up and taking voluntary control of it is a similar achievement, and once you do, you can command a cheerful mood at any time and make things happen in your life that wouldnt be possible otherwise, rather than the other way around. You can turn your inner mood thermometer into a thermostat (or more accurately, find that it was one to begin with). You can turn your weather vane into a fan.
If you are highly inhibited, it helps to bypass your defenses mentally. Ive gotten my success with visions of a small happy smiley boy or a cartoon character skipping and dancing toward me then walking into my body and animating it, acting out in my body his cheerfulness, doing for me what I myself just could not do. Its a simple exercise in theatre. By forgetting about who you really are and role-playing someone totally different, you become increasingly aware that you have been roll playing the whole time, and this is allowing you to wiggle your way out of the masquerade for the first time since you were nine. This has often been aptly described as jumping out of your skin.
We oversimplify the picture by trying to be logical, for human reality is too liquid to submit to analysis. That is why its no use trying to convince yourself that it is okay to be cheerful - all you come up with are reasons why it isnt (like if everyone you see is looking angry and serious, there is a good reason). It is just one of those things that is irrational, but works, i.e. where logic works in one direction and reality works in the other. Psychologists are to this day scratching their heads over why this seems to be so. In fact, whether you believe it or not doesnt seem to have any effect one way or the other. Children are too young to know what to believe, and it works for them. It can only be realized experientially, by going through the motions, a highly underrated practice. I believe it is the Bible that says As a man thinketh, so is he and also points out that our tongue is like a rudder of a great ship.
Man was made to fly, but he does have to flap his wings when an updraft is not available. In fact depending on emotional updrafts is a risky method and will come to naught if the updrafts should go away, leaving you a sniveling wreck. It is those who have strenghthened their wings by learning how to negotiate all the winds who become those great magnets of cheerfulness that attracts others. So rare, in fact, are such people that is quite possible for someone with regular social exposure to go a whole lifetime without ever meeting one. So often are these happy people mistaken for ones who get all the good luck, that in most languages the same word is used for happy and lucky. Even the latin word felix means both.
It has been observed, even scientifically, that acting a certain way causes you to feel that way. Why? because the body always attempts to agree with itself. When the face takes the lead, the body must follow. However, some of these reports add that this doesnt seem to work when you smile. What a bummer, the one emotion where this would be useful is the only one where it wont work. What is the explanation?
When you tell someone to Smile!, what does that mean? Let me really introduce to you the smile. I am sure to have it pointed out that we smile all the time. Look at the smiling insurance agent in the newspaper ad. Thats not what Im after at all. That is an adult smile. I am talking about the kid smile. (or to avoid playing the age card, the corporate smile and the cartoon smile) You can tell the difference. The adult smile may be ear-to-ear; but the kid smile is from the head to both hands and both feet. The adult smile has the distinction of being the only emotion the rest of the body is barred from participating in. Because its the only emotion we are ashamed of. We lock up the entire body with the exception of the smiling face itself, so the body cannot follow the lead of the face. The mouth smiles and the rest of you sulks. The net result is a feeling of grimness. The face cant lead if the rest of the body is trying to lead another direction.
But try smiling the way a cartoon character does, by daringly relaxing the rest of the body so the smiling face can bring the rest of you with it. Note that I am not talking about posing happy with your body. How would you even know how to do that? You cant even see what makes it different, but you can sure see the effects. That is why all you can do is let the rest of you relax. Not relaxation from tension, but from inhibition. The effect may frighten you at first. But its really fun! Realize the smile might not be a strong, beaming one, but if it isnt competing with other emotional cues elsewhere, even a smile subtle enough to be undetectable really works. All but the most resistent of people will also smile when they see you. I would dare to say people have turned whole societies around this way. When the ear-to-ear smile is freed to become the head-to-feet smile, it quickly goes on to become the person-to-person smile. Then you have more than a state of mind. You have a ministry.
So yes, the smile can steer your emotional state as other expressions, but not if that is the very emotion you keep vetoing with your body.
Someone in a health (yes health) article has well suggested that you should look at yourself blankly in the mirror, then crack a grin, spreading slowly to an ear-to-ear smile, then a beaming open-mouthed smile with a forward lean, and start giggling in delight. I know, I must be kidding. But the very fact that this wouldnt be easy for most of us is the whole point. Im sure this is done rarely enough that if there were an illness which only this could cure, that fact will never see the light of day, and the illness will remain listed as "mysterious and incurable." For some reason God has decided to make being happy fun. Its fun to be happy! But He also made it difficult, so that it would be a test of character. If you are one of the extreme few who manage to try this out, you will wonder why we waste so much time having fun the way society has preapproved for mass consumption.
Cheerfulness is indeed a leap of faith. Suppose there were a certain 1000-foot cliff and you were told that if you jump off, an updraft somehow always appears out of nowhere to catch you just as you are about to land, and hoists you up even higher than the edge you jumped from, giving you a birds-eye view of the whole land. This is how cheerfulness works. Most people get cheerful by being pushed off the cliff (circumstances, high seratonin etc). But what I am talking about is jumping off the cliff. Falling is a fearful thing, whether being pushed or jumping, but both are viable ways of falling off a cliff.
One may ask why our minds dont make it easy on us by letting us simply stand on the edge and get lifted. I intuit that this is because our spirits demand some degree of risk, a leaping before you look if you please. The unwillingness of most people to do that may be why we are so morose, and it may also be the source of addictions to all the wrong kinds of risk.
Attitude is everything. You may be tired of hearing that well-worn phrase. But I'm sure that what we are really sick of is watching people continue to ignore it, in spite of the fact it has proven to work everywhere it is tried. Curing of illnesses by use of attitude is already spoken of, and is even being taken seriously by reputable doctors. Suppose that this is because much of what we call disease develops in our bodies to begin with because of our bad attitude. This shouldnt surprise you if youve noticed the effect of our attitude on our very vital signs themselves. How about goosebumps, a sinking feeling in your stomach, having your teeth on edge, even a mild coronary - all well known emotional reactions. Now we may have an explanation why some people can fall a hundred feet and hit concrete, and get up and walk away, why they can light cigars and inhale their way to one hundred, and maybe why they can walk on white-hot coals. Why Id bet that with a sufficiently good attitude people could throw you to the bottom of the sea and you wouldnt drown, for you could breathe water!
Being in a good mood is merely the outward manifestation of the nervous system being in a state of homeostasis, quite impossible if you are bracing yourself for impending adversity. The happy state is really a laying down of our defenses, however unrealistic, merely for the neurological benefit this mental orientation affords us by freeing up enormous nerve energy that wasnt being effectively used anyway. Just the empowerment this brings us goes a long way toward directing our circumstances. I believe there are common diseases that yield to nothing but cheerfulness, ignoring even the strongest drugs, since bitterness or uptightness was the cause from the beginning. Optimists arent people who think things are great; they are people who simply know the response patterns of their nervous system. They dont have better luck than the rest of us, nor even think they do; they are just awfully hard to keep upset.
A cynic justifies himself by saying he has no surprises but pleasant ones. But this approach uses logic rather than experience, logic that is forever doomed to remain strictly academic. It fails to take into account the way our mind and nerves function when bracing themselves for trouble. While it is true the pessimist smiles at the pleasant surprises, catch it while you can before it snaps right back to the cynical sneer that he has the rest of the time. And while the optimist definitely gets a lot more rude awakenings, it is against a backdrop of simply feeling great to be alive.
Have you been haunted with the conviction that cheerfulness is unfeeling, and even rude, almost to the point of being convinced? It is good to remind yourself that rudeness is not unconditionally verboten. You can be as rude as you want to a smoker, for instance, or to someone who swims without a buddy. Now you can append to this list those inconsiderately cheerful folks. You know you like to do rebellious demonstrations anyway. But now you can do that with a practice you know you have already settled in your heart to be a good thing. Enjoy the rush you get from it, just like you do in those dreams of being able to hop and remain in the air, or get onto a city bus free and the driver not mind. But the supreme assertion of freedom and potence is having a cheery attitude of the sort that only nine-year-olds are supposed to have. Its amazing how many people talk a lot about liberation, but wont attempt this rather obvious form of it. It will indeed cause a rush from which you will never fully recover. True cheerfulness has a half-life! But you must jump through that first firewall. And once you do, you will want to go, as Aslan has said, further up and further in.
I'm afraid though that the fire you have to jump through turns out to have been deliberately set. Allow me to prepare you. In this kind of world you will definitely be scolded for acting happy. People will rub your nose in it, because you are being something that they made the great social sacrifice not to be, and they dont want you rubbing it in. You will be forced to the crossroads: either join the Big Sulk to get along, so ready for calamity that you are impenetrable by the sunshine of good circumstances. Or else become a happy person, with a healing touch, so ready for the task ahead that misfortunes dont deabilitate you.
When we were young, we didnt know anything, nor how to feel about it. So we were happy. We were in the age of innocence. Thats why kids easly feel smiley and upbeat. But later we discovered things about ourselves we didnt approve of, usually with the help of others, and shriveled up. It is too bad that we reach this dignified maturity while we are still actually too young to know better, which is in adolescence. But most people, by the time they mature past this turbulent time of life, have other things on their mind and forget to go back and clean up this faux pas. And so we end up remaining stuck in this adolescent sulk, and it becomes the normal pattern of adulthood. But here is the well-kept secret: Shame is useless unless it is corrective, removing faults where shame is justified, and removing the shame itself where it is unjustified. Shame is intended to purify and must be allowed to do so. If it isnt, it will remain beyond its expiration date and putrify into the monstrosity we now describe as adult dignity. Purification will free up in you the ability to be happy the natural way you did as a child. Then we are restored to what could be called "informed innocence".
When good food repels me, chances are I am sick. Similarly, whenever I am repelled by someones cheerfulness, you can bet I am actually irritated or deeply worried about something else entirely, and am convinced the world will end if I let go of it for a second. Nobody is helping me stop worrying with their advice about how bad things are or will become (Do you want to hear what the government is doing with your tax dollars in area fifty-one?), but those people who interrupt (and irritate) me with their playful smiles are, and deserve more kudos than ten-thousand therapists.
Dont count on seeing your influence on those around you as you endeavor to spread sunshine all over the place. That is like dropping a seed on the ground and then asking Well...wheres the tree? You generally will not be around to see the influence you have on others become manifest. An obstinately morose person may not respond to your cheer until 40 years after you have passed from the scene, at some moment when his mind is especially fertile and your memory turns on like a light in his head. Besides, this byproduct of cheerfulness isn't the reason for practicing it. Cheerfulness is good ontologically, in and of itself. Otherwise it wouldn't even be worth handing out.
I am also willing to believe that cheer germs can spread second hand. A person may pass your happiness on to someone else he meets without being affected in any way by it himself. This could explain why we are sometimes curiously drawn toward someone who obviously has no redeeming features whatsoever. He may be a carrier of cheer germs that fell on him. Thus your smile does in fact make the world a nicer place even for those who never cross your path. So know for sure your happiness has an effect, but it is quite impossible to track it down. When you consider this, you know that there is no such thing as a wasted smile.
This brings up the obvious enigma: what about smiling when there's nobody there to see it? Do you suppose that cheer germs can survive in non-organic environments? Well if there is even the slightest possibility of that, better smile. Risking a lost opportunity is far greater than the rather queer idea that you are "wasting a smile." After all, there is at least the reflexive pleasure you get from just feeling your own smile on your face.
Dont overlook the fact that the one book that confirms our suspician of being a fallen race, the same book that had more warnings than any other book about what we should not do, is the same book telling us to rejoice. Ah, but Billy, what kind of rejoicing?!? That is an equivocal term you know. Bibles open again? Good. Whatever kind of rejoicing causes you to be glad in that day and leap for joy or praise the Lord with timberal and dancing. Try to paraphrase this into a message about the importance of sensible dignity, or merely having a deep inner joy of the heart.
Go through these one a day for a week.
Mon) Find a small gathering of strangers and say to them How ya guys doin? (I'm glad to say I find lots of guys way better at this than I am)
Tue) Learn the Snap, Crackle Pop Rice Krispies song.
Wed) Look for a main arterial and skip down the sidewalk for a whole block.
Thur) Jump out of bed in the morning and hum and grin your way through the shower.
Fri) Go for a walk facing toward traffic, grinning.
Sat) Go on a morning jog smiling.
Sun) Make a vow to God you will "give a cheer" to someone each day.
You say smiles spread. But once or twice, when I smiled at someone on the street he kind of glared back at me.
Once or twice? You're one lucky dude. Oh you made them feel good alright. That's what bothers them. But they are so used to forbidding themselves to get in a good mood that they are frightened at letting themselves go. Their glare is their psychological protection against this loss of control, like covering your face when you see a ball flying toward you. These are the same people who, when they do smile, quarantine their faces so they end up with that "insurance" smile I mentioned above. But that's their problem, not yours. But even if you feel you wasted yourself on them, remember that you are at least making them a "carrier". Once you learn this secret, you will go on outings just to get this reaction as many times as you possibly can. While cheer germs coming at us inpire us, only cheer germs going out out from us make us feel good. God designed it that way.
You surely dont recommend smiling through funerals.
I dont suggest running roughshod over grief with an unrelenting smile. That would be shallow, and quite unnecessary. I do suggest, though, that we not run roughshod over our happy churnings with an unrelenting scorn, for we do that more often than we would like to believe. No need to smile when you dont feel like it. But do heed every urge to smile, which happens more commonly than you may think.
Sometimes I may do a bright, even open-mouthed, ear-to-ear smile, but there still seems to be a lack of effectiveness. How hard must I do it?
The intensity of a smile has actually very little if anything to do with its completeness. Some smiles too faint to be detected can stop a war. In studies showing that you come to feel the way you act, smiling didnt seem to work. It is because cheer is the only emotion we are afraid to let our bodies express, and so the smile cannot spread beyond the mouth. We generally tense our body to confine the joy to our face. Merely relaxing your body allows even the subtlest of smiles to be surprizingly exciting to your whole body. Doing this is real fun.
You talk much about willed cheerfulness. Ive heard that faking happiness is often a cover-up for underlying sadness. Doesnt this encourage self-deception?
I would compare that with the premise that straightening up your room is a cover-up for an underlying messiness, or buying gasoline is a cover-up for underlying emptiness of a gas tank. If you are truely in touch with your feelings, grieving is expedited and short periods of it will suffice. Then you will be perfectly justified in covering up underlying sadness. This isnt deception, it is simply a refocusing of attention. A piano can play different notes, and just because a C exists doesnt mean you are covering it up by playing a G instead. A song is generally many notes, but one key. Just so your body may play many different emotions, but should be in a happy key. I play on the swings even though I have lost my father and three dogs. Your feelings are a composite of the nature of what happens to you and your outward response.
How can I keep my emotions in homeostasis if the circumstances guiding them are not also at my command?
E=f(C,O), its that simple. It takes two blades working against each other for scissors to cut. Circumstances provide half the influence. They interact with your outlook to determine your emotional state. You should notice around you that the same circumstances affect equally precarious people in different ways depending on the outlook they assumed. In pretty much any distressing challenge of life, there is at least one outlook that will react in a glorious way to it. We all have experienced this phenomenon at least by accident. But you have to do a lot of mental homework to become fortified. Mentally rehearsing helps.
Doesnt the energy required to muster a postitive attitude against the tide run you down?
Compare it to the importance of good posture. Why sit up straight when it requires more effort than slouching? Doesnt that just make you tired? Good posture, while requiring more tension, lines up your muscles so that the work is done by the muscles best equipped to do it, easing stress on the more delicate muscles. That way you do everything else more efficiently. It does take nervous energy to cheer up, but it puts your nervous system in a good posture, so that stress on your nerves is relieved. It is very much like driving up a hill on your last drop of gasoline because there is a filling station at the top.
You seem to be getting into the New Age when you talk about channeling a happy kid. Isnt this dangerous?
This is pretending that you are another person. This is merely a way of diverting your attention at the neurological level to bypass certain inhibitions where they may be especially formidable. Not attempting to invoke a power outside of and beyond ourselves, this cannot be construed as any kind of spiritism. Jesus didnt channel the prodigal son. He was acting out a role to drive home his lesson on Gods mercy. Besides, as I said above, you'll eventually find out you are doing less pretending rather than more.
Happiness is good, but I dont care to think of myself as a little kid. There is something regressive about that. Cant you have the one without the other?
Technically, yes. But since we have allowed kids to be our cheerleaders for centuries, a formidable archetype has been created. It's simply unrealistic to picture a fully happy spirit without a kids face somehow appearing on it. For now, dont sweat trying to make the separation. If you try to take the kid out, you stand to lose much of the cheer with it. The association is just too deeply seated in our collective makeup. Is it also curious how we have trained ourselves to dread the very idea of "regressing" to childhood, but dont really know why. Ironically, this is an inhibition we originally imposed on ourselves as children, when we were too young to know better, but havent got around to fixing as adults. So the only practical thing to do is act out in defiance of this fear. Let people think you look kidlike. It works magic every time. One thing you can commit to memory is this: If you try to be happy, you will succeed in looking like a kid; but if you try to be kidlike, you will only succeed in looking like an adolescent has-been.
You were in agreement that happiness is an inward disarmament. Just what kind of hits are these that you would be opening yourself to?
When you are happy, you are in effect stating Life is wonderful. When something arises that proves otherwise, generally you feel like a jackass over your happy act. Also, there are people who will scold you for being happy when there is plenty to be upset about. In other words, if you are to be happy, you need to become desensitized to having your nose rubbed in it. If you learn the secret of taking these hits as part of the video game of life, you will reach the point where the jabs tickle rather than sting. It's jabs like this which can only hurt you if you acknowledge the idea that they are supposed to. In other words, when anything is corrected in our lives, it runs afoul of those things that are still out of alignment, both psychologically and socially. Remember that the only Man who ever did everything perfectly literally got nailed for it.
Did you notice how people who are retarded seem to always be in a good mood? If happiness is really an indication of functional soundness, then how can it be made easier by a mental deficiency?
Sometimes one problem can prevent another. A car that doesnt run wont crash. Your observation highlights the fact that dignified seriousness is learned behavior. And so anything that inhibits the ability to learn, as does mental retardation, provides an obvious advantage at this point. Morose dignity is in fact one of the hardest things to teach a retarded person because it is so counter-intuitive, having no positive outcome to reinforce the behavior. I must seriously wonder if any retarded people exist who are taking antidepressants.
Just how long to you expect the everything will be all right approach to fool our brains which have countless times seen otherwise?
Maybe a clarification of optimism will straighten you out: Optimism is not saying that something bad that is about to happen wont. It is taking control of what your sequence of responses after the fact will be. In other words, saying everything will be all right is a sign of pessimism, because it means you obviously still depend emotionally on everything being all right. But is this dependence hardwired? How many other things can you think of which hurts a lot just beforehand but feels good just afterward? Eating your vegetables? Working out? Apologizing? Cleaning your room? They hurt because you must avert the immediate primal response to circumstances to get a better outcome. Well, trying a happy response to something that should frustrate you is a far more dramatic example of this. Probably the hardest thing for a man to do, and resulting in what is probably the most intense pleasure possible.
How can someone be a carrier of happiness, and not be himself be cheered up by it?
You could say in fact he is in a deep down way cheered up. But these people I refer to as carriers have become so adept at forbidding themselves all discernable feelings and evidences of cheer that as far as we can tell they dont have any. But the injected cheer will still express itself in those zillion littler mannerisms so subtle as to be undetectable by the human eye, and thus outside the scope of conscious control, which can only affect onlookers subliminally. I.e. their existance is known only by the effect they have.
If a morose person cannot help being a passive carrier of cheer, than it must work the other way too: Those of us trying to guard our joy are equally hapless carriers of anger vibes others may throw at us.
We have one advantage though. Morose people dont really believe in the anger they express; they are just caught in it. We who have laid hold on cheer know we are grasping a good thing, and can do so in good faith, reinforcing it with our deep inner belief. That helps to disinfect us from invasive vibes others may throw at us even before they incubate. Forgiveness is so important because it deals with this very thing. Keep in mind there is really no way to forgive something you arent sure is wrong. Surely noone can be so devoutly opposed to cheer that they could successfully forgive it.
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