Smiling More Often


Just before closing the book on 2013 I set a goal for the new year. I suppose I could call it a resolution, but I really prefer to think of it less as an end state and more as a new state of mind.  It’s a remarkably simple idea: my goal is to smile more often.

Whenever I greet a cashier, UPS driver, mailman, librarian, random strangers on the street, an old man at the grocery store, etc. I think happy thoughts and then flash a smile.

For the record I told myself I did not have to smile if I was not in the mood. My goal is not to pretend to be happy, but rather to feel genuinely happy in moments when I otherwise would have felt grumpy or agitated.

Some days are easy. On those days I probably went to bed at a reasonable hour. I squeezed in five minutes of meditation before getting out of bed. I had enough time to take a ten minute shower rather than a five minute one and I actually remembered to apply deodorant before stepping out the door. The sun is shining, my son is in a particularly happy mood and our breakfast was both nutritious and delicious.

Other days are much more difficult. I didn’t manage to eat before leaving the house, which means I am starving, my son is tired and cannot be bribed with cheese crackers and peanut butter sandwiches, as I bag pears from the produce section they break through the bottom of the thin plastic and roll all over the grocery store floor, the line at the checkout lane appears to be taking forever, the toddler in line in front of me is screaming as if someone is trying to kill him, the people behind me keep jamming their shopping cart into my legs and somehow my plan to stop in for a gallon of milk turned into $100 worth of groceries.

Normally I would stand in line and shift my weight from side-to-side. I would feel agitated and angry that a five minute trip to the grocery store turned into a forty-five minute ordeal. I would think about all of the places I’d rather be and all of the things I’d rather be doing, but with the new goal in mind I pause and smile.

Rather than feeling grumpy I reflect on all of the happiness and good in my life. I am thankful that my body is capable of squatting on hands and knees to dig pears out of every nook and cranny they have rolled into. I am thankful that my toddler is not the one screaming at the top of his lungs. I am thankful that my hunger pains will soon be healed and that the people behind me switched lanes when they noticed how slow my line was moving. Lastly I am thankful that I have the money to pay for the groceries I am about to buy.

This thought process takes mere seconds and when I look up from the conveyor belt I happily greet the cashier. And yes I smile.

Since I started smiling more often I have found the world to be a much kinder and gentler place. The people I meet when I am out and about seem to sigh in relief when I reach the counter. I’ve heard “it’s such a pleasure to wait on people that are happy,” “if only all of my customers were as understanding and patient” and my favorite “I can tell by looking at you that you have a good outlook on life.”

I will not pretend that I am happy all of the time, but thinking about the positive aspects of life have certainly made me feel more grateful and joyful.

Oddly enough I do find it more difficult to be happy at home. Often it is when I am completely alone that I find myself dwelling on the negative. Maybe I should look at my reflection in the mirror and smile. Perhaps it is the very nature of smiling that makes me happy, knowing that someone will see my toothy grin and reflexively return the favor.

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