Monday, December 19, 2011

What's In A Smile?

Some years ago I was on the cereal aisle of my local grocery store when a man passed me with a little girl in his shopping cart. Amused by the cute toddler, I smiled at her and said hello. “Ay Dios mio, yo a ti te conozco!” he said (“Oh my goodness, I know you.”). Yeah right! I thought. I had heard plenty of pick-up lines in my time but in Spanish?
As it turns out, he not only knew me by first and last name, he knew my father, my mother and my sisters too.  It seems we had met at a party for our fathers’ fraternity back in Puerto Rico. “I put you on my feet and taught you to dance,” he said. “I was 14. You were 3.”
So there I stood, stunned and with Special K in hand, in another country, 40-something years later with no clue of who he was.   I asked him how he had recognized me since the last time we had seen each other, I was such a small child. His reply:  “You have the exact same smile.”
Now that was a “WOW!” moment.
A smile is more than just a simple gesture. It says something about who you are and how you view the world. When you smile, you create an energy that travels from the outside into the very inside of your soul.  Go ahead, try it. Hold a smile and feel your heart fill up! It lifts your mood, transforms your day and defines you as a person. When it’s given it brings joy to others, puts them at ease and welcomes them to get to know you.
I have two friends who used to avoid raising their upper lips when they smiled. Their restrained smiles caught my attention. Perhaps they didn’t like their teeth, or the whiteness of their smile, or the emotion a smile portrayed. Whatever the reason, it was a boundary they put between themselves and others – a habit they’d developed that wasn’t serving them or those around them.
People can mistakenly assume that when a person smiles a lot they must be leading a charmed life, a sort of “Pollyanna” existence void of pain and heartbreak. I remember a woman once said to me, “I can tell you’ve never had sorrow in your life because you’re always smiling.” My response to her was to say: “just because you can only see a smile, doesn’t mean I don’t carry scars in my heart;” and then I smiled.
Whether you’re in a good place or times are tough, if you’re struggling to hang on or grateful for a momentary reprieve from life’s hardships there’s always cause to smile. Don’t just take my word for it, test the theory for yourself.  For the next several weeks make a conscious effort to be aware of others, look them in the eye, and offer a smile. See what happens. See how you feel. See how others react to you. Who knows, you just might begin to experience for yourself the same thing you’re offering to others: Joy!

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