The power of a smile

smiling toddlerThe market was crowded, every aisle gridlocked with shoppers, nearly all of them pushing carts. I made my way past the bakery, threaded through the throngs at the deli counter, and turned the corner at the end of a case of salads. There was room for only one cart to negotiate the passageway; so many carts already occupied the space.

At the end of it not 15 feet away I saw an elderly woman, her torso twisted by some deforming affliction, doing her best to push her cart even though she had to stand to one side and lean on the pushrail. I stopped, smiled, and backed up so she could get by.

As she passed me she said something I find remarkable. She said, “Thank you for smiling.”

I always smile, well almost. I told her she was very welcome and then went on my way. I began to look around at the other shoppers and saw not a smile anywhere.


Some were scowling, but most had no expression at all. They turned carts this way and that, passing dozens, maybe hundreds of people inside that store, but made no eye contact, no acknowledgement of anyone’s else’s presence.

“Thank you for smiling,” she said. It seemed so natural and to me the only polite and civil thing to do.

 Smile, for everyone lacks self-confidence and more than any other one thing a smile reassures them. Andre Maurois

Such a simple thing to do but oh so powerful. One thing I really appreciated about the islands was how polite and friendly people were. Smiles were often seen, especially when you smiled first. A smile accomplishes three things immediately.

First, you feel better. Clinical research bears this out. It is universal, found in every culture and has the same results. Smiling has documented therapeutic effects, and has been associated with: reduced stress hormone levels (like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine), increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels (like endorphins), and lowered blood pressure. British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars. Imagine that! 2,000 chocolate bars in one smile!

Second, when others see you smile, they smile too. It is almost impossible to frown at anyone when they’re smiling at you. It might even work on wild animals. Davey Crockett thought so, at least he did in the movies when he tried to grin grizzlies intodavey crockett submission. Two studies from 2002 and 2011 at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles actually suppress the control we usually have over our facial muscles, compelling us to smile.

Third, a smile builds the influence you have over others. Mother Teresa said: “I will never mother-teresaunderstand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” Denis Waitley, whose skill at training Olympic athletes to have the mental edge over their competitors made him a national treasure said that “A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside.” It is a surprisingly easy way to do something significant for someone else and costs absolutely nothing.

“Thank you for smiling,” she said. We did not discuss anything further but I can only imagine that she had not encountered too many others in that market that day who had been friendly. I know I didn’t. She probably met many who were narrowly focused on their shopping, whose minds were somewhere else.

I remember a little jingle from the 50’s (I think it was used by singers in the Oral Roberts healing crusades, but can’t confirm that for sure). It went like this:

The time to be happy is now,

The place to be happy is here,

The way to be happy is to make someone happy

And spread a little love a good cheer.

 So let me say it ahead of time, “Thank you for smiling.”

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