During these gray, dark days of winter, I find myself turning inward. I spend more time in reflection, in meditation, in exercise, in self-care, in research, in cooking and cleaning. As I focus inward, I sense that I am not smiling as often as I normally do. I thoroughly enjoy this indoor time of engaging with family and friends on a more intimate level; still, as my thoughts travel further and farther inward, so does my smile.
We are really lucky we can smile. We are actually born smiling. Scientists once thought that babies “learned” to smile by mirroring others, but they now agree that babies are smiling while in the womb. The babies then, after their trip down the birth canal, do not normally smile until they are approximately six weeks old. It is speculated that this is because babies have to get used to a completely new and strange environment . . . a stark contrast to the the baby’s stress-free environment in the womb.
“Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live – and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being?” I was re-watching Ron Gutman’s TED talk “The Hidden Power of Smiling.” It is a great talk that reminds us of how important it is to our own health and to the well-being of others. Gutman’s talk tells how the world can be changed by simply smiling. Research and common sense and personal experience substantiate this.
I thought about this research today as I was out and about running errands. I made it a point to smile at everyone who was stopped next to me in traffic. Even at a few people who were walking on the sidewalk and crossing the street. Some people’s expressions led me to believe that they thought that I was a creeper, but this was not the case with everyone. Some people smiled back. Some people waved. One car let me go ahead of him in traffic.
Near the end of the afternoon, I found myself in the insane maze of Trader Joe’s parking lot. Insanity rules in this particular location as the number of shoppers far outweighs the number of places to park. People troll from lane to lane with grim expressions of determination on their faces.
I went into the maze with a philisophical state of mind. Determined to carry out my mission of smiling at strangers today, I put myself into the ludicrous and absurd flow of cutthroat parkers. People were cutting others off and zipping into parking spots ahead of them. Sign language ensued. A near fender bender was prevented by some pretty insane honking. Everyone was wanting to get in and get out with their groceries.
I spied an empty spot, turned on my blinker, and then saw a car bearing down on me from the end of the lane. Yikes! This person must have really needed my spot because he zipped in ahead of me before I could even begin turning my wheel.
When he got out of his car, he smiled at me. But it wasn’t a nice smile. It was a smile of one-up-man-ship. Gotcha! is what his smile said. Now I am not a saint. No, not by any long shot of the arrow. And I could feel my brow furrowing and the corners of my mouth turning south. But I paused. And I thought. And I remembered my research mission of the day. As he came walking by my truck — which was hopelessly stalled behind two other cars that had been wanting that same parking spot — I smiled at him. Really smiled at him. He looked at me smiling at him, shook his head at me to confirm my insanity, put his head down, and kept walking. I don’t know why, but this made me laugh out loud.
The moral of the story. I ended up parking across the street from the fray of bumper cars, went into the store and ran the aisles, paid for my groceries, and rattled the cart across the way to my truck. I was loading my bags into the back when a voice clear out of nowhere asked me, “Can I help you with your bags?”
It was a woman who had somehow materialized behind me. I looked at her and thought, “Whoa! Where did you come from?” I almost declined her offer but then thought better of it. She was smiling. She helped me with my bags and then offered to return my cart for me. Wow! Like an angel, she rattled back to the store with the empty cart, still smiling.
I shut the tail gate and got into the truck and sat there while the truck warmed up. I felt as if I had been visited by a significant act of kindness.
My research mission for tomorrow? Smile more. Even when I am here at home clattering away at the keyboard, I am going to smile more. Research has shown that when you are feeling really blue, you can take a pencil and hold it horizontally in your mouth, across your bite, to simulate a smile. This simple little act of holding your mouth in a make-believe smile — which is called facial feedback or priming — will indeed make you feel better. Good feelings are released. It is like an instant therapy in moments of stress or sadness.
Below is a link to Ron Gutman’s TED talk. Enjoy! And it is my wish that your day is awesome and full of smiling.