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The Universal Power of a Smile

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Sometimes the simplest concepts are also the most profound. Our attitudes are vitally important in communicating with others. The attitude we convey supersedes our words, whether we’re in conversation or speaking to a group. And even without words, our attitude trumps all other factors influencing our interactions with family, friends, co-workers, and even total strangers.

It’s been said that we can’t control others’ behavior. We can only control our reaction. But let’s face it: To our own vexation, most of us don’t have total control of our attitude all the time. In fact, our emotional responses can include sadness, anger, and frustration—just to name a few—even within a single day. While we try our best to keep a positive attitude, we’re complex human beings, not automatons, and so sometimes, maybe often, our real feelings surface from that private place inside to the brave exterior we present to the world.

Although we can’t always stop this from happening, there are a few ways we can respect our emotions, without allowing them to poison our relationships. No doubt the best remedy for a bad mood is to smile. I know, it seems so easy, yet how many of us practice it? For quite a while, I’ve been cultivating the habit of smiling at other people in public places, even when I’m sad or hurt or don’t especially feel like smiling for one reason or another. Much of the time, my smile generates an immediate smile from the party I’m smiling at. Not only does this give me the opportunity to brighten another’s day, but it also brightens my own. I strongly suggest you try it if you don’t do this already.

Smiling really is a universal language, and it usually works, sometimes in unexpected but very pleasant ways. For one thing, sadness, stress, and other negative feelings can drain us of energy, making us feel tired and fatigued. But a smile has amazing power to energize us, even as it elevates our mood. Every time I smile and someone smiles back at me, I feel a little better,— even happy—and I have more positive energy to do whatever it is I need to do that day.

There are exceptions: sometimes the other person doesn’t smile back. But according to the rules of my particular exercise, I don’t let this bother me. If my smile worked 100% of the time, it would have little meaning. If you decide to experiment with the habit of smiling, you’ll get the most interesting results if you smile at those you don’t expect to smile back, as well as the easy targets, who already look cheerful. If you don’t discriminate, you have more of a challenge and more potential for good. Look at it this way: you never know where a smile might lead.

I usually smile with my lips closed as I think kind thoughts, and let my smiling eyes do the talking. You can develop your own signature smile, but it’s best if it comes from your heart. I don’t advise that you just walk around with a smile plastered on your face. I think it’s more natural, and real, if the other party sees you break out into a gentle smile at seeing them. Then there’s a chance for a communion of kindred spirits, if only for a moment, but the good feeling that results can last for a lovely interlude, perhaps all day or at least until the next smile.

Another thing I’ve noticed about this practice is that I’m almost always the first one to smile whenever I approach or even glance at someone else. I’ve come to feel good about the fact that I’m the first to dare to reach out. At the same time, it’s made me more aware about one aspect of human nature: Many people—if not most— will wait for another person to show some sign of friendliness, before they choose to respond or ignore their overture of kindness. It’s as though they believe that their egos will be irreversibly damaged if their smiles don’t evoke a positive response. This actually isn’t likely. Friendliness is usually contagious.  And a few rejections are more than worth the rewards.

In any event, I’m glad I’ve replaced much of the fear of rejection I harbored in my more reserved days with the courage to smile, which sometimes leads to an enjoyable exchange of words or even a new friendship. So far, smiling hasn’t broken my face, or my heart, and every smile holds the potential for new beginnings!

M.K. Jones