I believe in the power of a genuine smile. The type when the upper lip lifts up to reveal teeth and a little bit of gums. The kind when the corners of the eyes squint because the cheeks are raised high. It’s the one where the eyes shine and everyone knows the authenticity of happiness.
Sometimes it takes someone else to point out a flaw you never knew you had. I was once walking briskly down the streets of my college town, hurrying to get home and out of the bitter Michigan weather. Not thinking of much, I walked with no purpose other than reaching my destination. I made eye contact with an older man walking towards me, when out of the blue he said, “Is something wrong? You know, you’d look a lot prettier if you smiled.” And that was it. A single, fleeting moment.
I never realized that my expressionless face was actually one that resembled anger. My lips sealed tight, jaw firm, eyes intent. It was a look that my Jewish grandfather would have referred to in Yiddish as a ‘broygez punim,’ translated literally, an angry face. But more than that, it’s a look of unhappiness, insecurity, and an attempt to block others out.
The funny thing was, I never considered myself any of those things. I think am happy, comfortable, and open to others. But the way I presented myself did not portray those qualities.
I began to make a conscious effort to transform my blank expression from one of hardness to a softer, more inviting one. I attempted to relax my lips and jaw, trying to show a face of contentment rather than bitterness.
After a while, what was once a conscious effort became second nature. I would find myself sitting quietly, my lips parted into a slight grin for no apparent reason. I would step outside on a freezing winter day, but find myself smiling when the sun came out and made the snow sparkle like the winter wonderland that Michigan is. I would walk around town and smile just because I wanted my outsides to reflect the happy person I was on the inside.
I knew for sure the transition occurred when I received another comment last spring. Walking into work early one morning, I said hello to the security guard as usual. He stopped me for a moment and told me, “You are the only person that walks in this building with such a big smile on your face every morning.” My smile apparently impacted him, and he had a larger impact on me than he will ever know.
However small or large an effect, I know that genuine smiles affect me and those I’m around. Sometimes it serves as a personal cue to be mindful, appreciating the things around me. Other times it brings a little bit of joy into another’s day. No matter what the purpose, I believe in smiling wide and smiling often.
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