An infant smiling in his sleep. The sound of children laughing. Teenagers huddled around a laptop all giggling shyly at the picture of a cute guy. A couple at a table happily looking into each others’ eyes as they chuckle about an inside joke. A warm smile or the titillating sound of laughter is without doubt the universal language of happiness. How can one not get drawn to it! Ever had a really bad day only to run into someone that smiles at you? You feel it warming you up too. You want to and do smile back. Maybe even nod to acknowledge them as if to say thank you.
A smile is the most underrated currency in today’s world. It really costs nothing but the gains from it are astounding. For one, making oneself feel genuinely happy (genuine being the operative word here) tricks our brain into thinking everything will be alright. The right mood can set the right tone for the day. Secondly, unbeknownst to us, every time we smile at someone, we make them feel a little better too. Most times than not, they will return that smile and just as warmly.
Years ago when I started my first job in the US, walking into the office, I would run into the same guy almost every day. Each time, he would hold the building or elevator door open for me, smile the warmest smile and say “Good Morning to you, young lady.” Coming from Mumbai, a city almost like New York where people are too busy to hold the door for you, let alone wish you, I found this immensely amusing. To be honest, the first few times, I ignored him (shame on me!) because I thought he was being dramatic. Once I realized though that he genuinely meant it, I started returning the smile accompanied with a quick nod. That was all I could manage. What I noticed however, is that after I had met him, I felt good about my day. It felt a little lighter and things generally seemed upbeat.
His smile was so contagious that I actually started looking forward to seeing him every morning just to let him set my mood for the day. One day after a really long night of support and very little sleep, I was grouchy and not at all happy as I walked into the office at 8:30 AM. But then I spied my guardian angel and inadvertently quickened my step, while also realizing that I needed his dose of happiness to make it through the day. He didn’t fail me and the day went by fairly well, definitely way better than it would have had I not seen him.
That was my aha moment! That was the day I decided to graduate from smile-and-nod to smile-and-wish. The next time I ran into him, I smiled first and said “Good Morning to you, Sir”. He looked at me for a brief second and then broke out into a hearty laugh. That day, all he said was “Alright!”. I’m not sure why but that made my day and his too I hope. After that day, I also decided I was going to smile at at least one stranger a day. It was amazing how people responded. Some were unsure of how to respond like I was, some smiled back shyly while some were downright friendly and returned my smile with a “Hey, how are you?” It finally dawned on me what he was trying to do. He was trying to insert a little bit of happiness into the lives of people who he crossed paths with. I wonder how many converts like me are out there today because of people like him.
Even today, I might not smile at every stranger but if I see someone looking a little morose or serious, I will smile at them and sometimes I get instant feedback, sometimes not. I just assume after I’ve walked away, it has stayed with them and if nothing else made them feel good even if for a few minutes.