Octo Observations: When You’re Smiling

Have you ever noticed how easily you respond to a person who smiles? Have you ever gone to the grocery store, and someone you never saw before walks toward you, and as your carts pass each other you exchange a smile? 

Think about each day of your life. Where would you or I or any of us be if we didn’t give or receive smiles? In today’s world, where friction and dissension seem to permeate many areas of our lives, a smile sets everything right for one happy, brief moment. Just this morning, as I was leaving the market, a gentleman stopped as he was nearing the entrance, and smiled. “Please walk in front of me,” he said. He saw I was directed to the parking lot. I smiled at him, thanked him and commented, “how nice it is to meet a gentleman with manners!” “Thanks,” he replied. “These days they are in short supply.”

A simple encounter like that generates a happy feeling. It puts a smile on your heart, and realization that people can be nice to each other. And not just those who are your friends or your family. Strangers also have the same capacity. My mother always told me that it takes far less energy to smile than it does to frown…also, a smile doesn’t cause dour wrinkles!

Babies are especially good at smiling, especially if they are in their first year. On my computer is a precious picture of our only great -granddaughter who turned one year old on April 1st. Her mommy sent us a picture of sweet Evie, wearing her sweatshirt, her short hair in a topknot, with a little curl sprouting over her left ear. Having not seen this baby since last August, I decided to make her adorableness my screen-saver picture. Now, whenever I turn on my computer, there is our angel baby-doll, with her big blue eyes, her sweet smile and her marvelous “fountain” hairdo. It is impossible not to smile right back at her. I count my blessings that even though she lives in Boston, she is a mere mouse-click away.

Smiles, however, are not always customary or welcomed around the world. An online article addresses the subject: “Why are Russians so stingy with their smiles?” I learned that last year before the World Cup, Russian workers were being “taught how to smile properly at the foreign soccer fans who would soon be visiting their country.” Apparently, the belief in Russia is that “randomly smiling at strangers in public is often viewed as a sign of mental illness or inferior intellect.” Although Americans might believe that Russians are unfriendly people because of their attitude toward smiling, that is untrue. Instead there seems to be a “smiling gap” based upon communication through “display gaps, often governed by something called “social distance.” INTERESTING! 

Even little children reflect the customs of their country’s origin. In the USA, a happy child is believed to be a “good child.” Yet “Russian caregivers don’t see any link between a child who smiles a lot and his or her manners and behavior”…..The article concluded that during the World Cup tournament, many Russian workers would be “gritting their teeth and putting on happy faces” in order to please their visitors from abroad! Hopefully, for some of these workers, smiling became a habit rather than a compulsory exercise.

Here in America an article from Social Psychology and Health reveals how smiling is a great indicator of a person’s well-being. It says there is a vast difference between a real smile and a fake smile. How do you tell? Genuine smiles (called “Duchenne” smiles) engage the muscles around your eyes. Think about that for a second…don’t we all respond quickly to someone’s smile when their eyes simultaneously light up with kindness and sincerity? For sure.

A few basic facts about this particular smile study:

  1. Smiling signals friendliness and encourages positive interactions.
  2. A smile is a reflection of inner happiness.
  3. Happier people tend to be healthier.
  4. People are treated differently when they smile.
  5. A proven fact based upon studying Mills College yearbook pictures is that the more women were smiling in their yearbook photos, the more likely they were to be married five years later and still satisfied with their marriages well over age 50!
  6. And last but not least, those who are able to smile or laugh when speaking of a deceased spouse were better able to manage their grief 25 months after the person passed away.

As children, we learn many messages and lessons from our parents. From the time I was a wee little girl, I distinctly remember my mother’s forbidding me to pout. Instead, she would say, “You are Joy, and you must always try to live up to that name.” I now believe that it was thanks to that dear lady’s frequent reminder that my life is richly blessed with a wonderful family and friends. As a bona fide old lady, I am a truly happy person. I try never to wallow (for long), even during difficult times. With two granddaughters whose middle name is the same as mine, I have shared my mother’s words. It works, and they are both lovely young girls who reflect joy. May they always be as grateful for happiness and well-being in their lives as I am.

After telling my husband about plans to write this article, he told me never to forget that a sense of humor is another key to unleashing many smiles, even among the most reluctant of people. Last week at a mini reunion with some of John’s great college pals and their spouses, one dear 84 year old fellow told a joke that left the rest of us in convulsions for many minutes. Imagine the mega-watt smiles that enveloped that room…plus the roars of laughter! 

Let each of us do all we can to bring a smile to someone else’s face….no matter where we are, what we are doing, or how frantic our lives might feel. Just as the gentleman stopped the other day to let me push my grocery cart in front of him, so, too, can we pause a second to smile, make someone else feel valued. As John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote: “The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.” 

Top photo : Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.