Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Can't Everyone Be More Like Me? On Smiling

I'm a smiler. I smile at people walking their dogs, at mothers and their children, at older people slowly crossing the street in front of my car. I also smile at the rowdy teenagers passing my way, at the guy selling newspapers on the meridian, and the folks who couldn't be less like me. I'm an equal opportunity smiler. Most of them smile back. A silent "good day" passes between us.

Over the years I've noticed, for myself, how a smile or act of small kindness can brighten my day, my week. There's a Japanese proverb that states "One kind word can warm three winter months." So one stink eye, one unanswered smile can have the opposite effect. I don't like the stink eye people. How hard is it to smile back at someone? What does that cost? How much trouble is it? My sweet, lazy Grammy always says, "A frown uses fifty facial muscles. It takes thirteen to produce a smile. Why overwork?" By the way, this does not mean frowning, in using more muscles, thereby burns more calories. Take a walk instead.

But then I have to consider the non-smiling person. Even I , who has compassion for the feelings of others, has had a bad day or two. Or four hundred and seventeen. Remember the guy who just cut you off in traffic could be on his way to the hospital, where his child lies after an accident. He's not thinking about you or the "good day" directed at him. That lady who didn't notice your smile is daydreaming and not paying attention, like you've done a hundred times. That rude kid who just ran in front of you without so much as an "excuse me" is searching for his lost dog. You dont' know what a person is going through that day so we have to give them a pass. Don't take it personally. Let it go. And as my slightly demented Grammy says, "Walk a mile in another man's shoes. That way, you're a mile away and you've got his shoes."

The best is the unexpected smile. The harried mother, trying to corral her rambunctious children in the grocery store appreciates the non judgemental smile from a stranger. The smile that says, it's okay, I've been there too. Or the person you smilingly hold the door for is heartened by this tiny kindness.

In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, researchers confirmed what I already knew; that people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. When the old adage is taken to heart, to put on a happy face, it does more to benefit everyone in that smiling people cause those around them to smile. And you know, they're also wondering what you're up to.

Smiling is also beneficial to the person with the big silly grin on her face. Facial expressions do not merely signal what someone feels, but actually contributes to that feeling. We feel happier when we smile. It's not a cure all for every situation. When you lose a loved one, it takes awhile for our smile to return. But in terms of getting a dose of the blues, it can help lift the sense of saddness. So, no matter how bad your day is going, putting a smile on your face will only make it better.

I like to smile. I like that someone's day may have been brightened and their spirit lifted. I like that it cost me nothing and yet I gain so much. I swear, if everyone were more like me, the world would be a better place.