I’m a smiler.
I smile when I’m happy, awkward, or embarrassed. I am known to smile through my anger, boredom, and even sadness. I even smiled during my divorce proceedings, which later I learned was interpreted as a sign that I was happy when in truth I was devastated.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t go around with a painted on Joker smile and act maniacal with false bliss, but when engaging others, especially through my work environment, I try to smile because I believe there is power in the gesture. I don’t mean smiling with that fake grimace smile either, but the kind of smile that reaches the eyes and adds color to the cheeks.
I will be the first to tell you, though, that I hate my smile. I have horribly crooked teeth and am extremely self-conscious of them in photographs. However, when I am interacting with my customers and the public at large, I am not thinking about my ugly teeth, I am thinking of the person before me and how I might be able to make their day just a little bit better with a smile. And when I’m home, I smile because I am basking in the moment with those I love – what better reason could there be for a smile.
There is power in a smile. I have witnessed first hand how a simple smile and a little eye contact can diffuse a tense situation. I can say the same thing as my co-worker, but by adding a smile the customer relaxes and practices something called human decency. They become patient, tolerant, and in general, a bit more friendly.
An article in Psychology Today on how to make higher tips advises that “a personal introduction accompanied by a smile” be made because it makes the server “appear friendlier and more personable and thus, predispose customers to leave higher tips.”
Smiles put people at ease, forms a small measure of trust, and in general, makes everyone feel better.
An elderly woman came to my counter, her lips drawn in a thin line of serious thought as she focused on what she had to get. I automatically greet her with a smile and ask how she was doing prior to starting the business side of things. Like others I have interacted with, her face instantly transformed as she returned my smile. Her gesture was sincere as it caused her green eyes to spark with life. The dear lady proceeded to compliment me on my smile, going so far as to call me an “angel” and telling me that the ability to smile was a blessing.
As usual in these situations, I blushed but thanked the woman, unsure of what proper protocol is for such an exchange.
This was not the first time I had received a compliment on my smile or seen the transformation of a frown to something more human looking, but it was the first time I had been called an angel. This got me to thinking – are smiles so rare that we are startled upon seeing one?
When doing this article, I quickly discovered that smiling is a topic of great interest. Numerous researches and articles have been done in attempt to understand the power and science behind this seemingly simple gesture. A smile has been linked in determining quality of life, longevity, and success. There are studies about the various types of smiles, from the fake smile to the soul reaching smile known as the Duchenne smile. With so much investigation going into smiles, it stands to reason that there is something big going on here.
I do not have to conduct a high tech study to understand that something happens when you smile. During unpleasant situations I will fake a smile and eventually my energy level will increase as will my attitude – thus why I smile at work. One does not even have to see the smile to gain benefits. When answering the phone, smile while you talk, it gives emotion to the voice and a sound of genuine interest towards the caller . One can actually hear the smile and the experience becomes a more pleasant exchange.
I had the honor of dressing up as a Sparky the Dog mascot for a fire prevention seminar at a pre-school. Though I did not speak, I did smile in spite of the fact that the large mask hid the gesture. Smiling gave me the energy needed to interact with the children and made the exchange feel genuine for the lot of us.
Even before I learned what power a smile wields, I smiled.
As a child we smile to express joy in something, it was an outlet for emotions that we did not have words to express. A newborn baby smiles at hearing its mother’s voice and in turn, the mother smiles back. Recently I did a photo shoot for my niece as her baby is about to turn 1. The baby responded to our smiles, mimicking the gesture and doing things to illicit more smiles and laughs from the adults that surrounded him. At an early age we learn that smiles are contagious and that there is something in them that makes us feel good.
There is truth behind the saying “smile and the world smiles with you.” However, it is not always a physical smile that is received. I routinely witness transformations such as my one customer – a frowner turning into a smiler – but through smiling, I see the world as a brighter place. A study by psychologist at the University of Kansas indicates that in some situations, smiling can reduce stress and help us feel better. When we smile, we gain something internally. Researchers believe that a smile can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and stress, as you know, is linked to a wide variety of mental and health issues.
If there are so many benefits to smiling, then why don’t people smile more?
As we get older, we become burdened by the demands of life – mounting bills, failing health, demands of work, etc. – all of these things can add up and steal our desire to smile. Simply put, we become too serious.
One of the reasons I smile is because I refuse to allow life to beat me, to have power over me in such a way that it determines my state of happiness. I also smile because I realize that for some, that may be the only smile they receive that day, the only friendly face they encounter. It does not mean I am naive, ignorant to hardships, or crazy.
With so much negativity, anger, and hatred in the world, why not put something out there that brings joy, faith, and love. My elderly customer said that my smile was a blessing, a gift. Like a gift, it should be given freely and without expectations.
If you are not a natural smiler, at first it may feel awkward, even fake. But don’t give up. Keep doing it. Put your smile out there, and in a short amount of time your brain, and others, will believe that smile and the real rewards will begin. 🙂