When In Doubt, Smile!
When I was a girl, people were always telling me to smile. Adults of all kinds, from neighbors to teachers to total strangers, would say, “Smile! You’re such a pretty girl when you smile!” Because I didn’t have a lot of reason to smile, and because I hated being told what to do, even when it was meant well, I went out of my way to not smile. I was not a happy kid–I was actually a pretty angry, miserable kid. So smiling was not something I ever did naturally.
To this day, smiling does not come easily to me. I know that my natural expression is rather stony, and that I have an air of unapproachability about me. (Sometimes I wonder if this carries over into other areas of my life, including my writing–but I suppose that’s another essay.) I’m shy, yes, but I’m not unapproachable. And I wish that I had gotten into the habit of smiling more when I was a kid, because I really have to work hard at it now. (Actually, what I really wish is that I’d had more reason to smile as a kid, but I suppose that too is another essay.)
But I do have to work at it. Even though I’ve always known about my somewhat brusque demeanor, only in recent years have I realized that it’s kind of important to work on softening that up. I’ve always kind of thought that if people knew me, it wouldn’t be a problem, and if people didn’t know me, it wouldn’t matter. There is some truth to this, but even so, I’ve come to believe there are good reasons to cultivate the habit of smiling, not the least of which is making a good first impression.
I read something once where someone was giving a person in the entertainment business advice. His number one piece of advice was, “Smile, smile, and smile some more! Keep smiling! Never, ever stop smiling! And did I mention that you should always, always smile?” I am not in the entertainment business, but I thought a lot about this advice. Why is smiling so important? Why does it matter so much? And I came up with a few reasons that make sense to me (and please forgive their obvious nature if you are a natural smiler. It really took me a long time to figure this out).
- Smiling makes you seem more positive. If you want to come across as a positive person, you should smile a lot. And being positive–something I didn’t learn much about in my family-of-origin–is important. It’s always good to try and see the good in people, places, and things. And if you can’t when you know you should, it’s easier to act as if and smile if you’ve made it a regular habit of it.
- Smiling makes you seem friendlier. In fact, you don’t seem friendlier, you are friendlier. A smile is the universal language of friendliness! And it’s always, always better to be friendly than to not be. It is much easier to retreat from friendliness if necessary than to try to win someone over after an initially closed or sour attitude. I have spent much of my life being guarded and distrustful, not without reason. But I have come to believe that being as open and friendly as possible is the much better way to go through life. I suppose I had to get to a point where I knew I could take care of myself before being able to let my guard down around strangers, but I’m glad I’m there.
- Smiling makes you more attractive. The older I get, the more I have to work at my appearance. I think smiling takes ten years off my face, and believe me, I need that help now! In all sincerity, smiling does make you more attractive. I doubt there’s a person alive who doesn’t look more charming, more personable, and more appealing when they’re smiling than when they’re not. If you are at all concerned about being an attractive person, smiling is one easy way to achieve it.
So I have learned that when in doubt, I should smile. When I feel unsure, or shy, or anxious (which can be often), I should smile. When I’m feeling angry, frightened, or frustrated, I should smile too. When I’m walking down the street, minding my own business, I should smile. The only time I shouldn’t be making some effort to smile is when I’m truly sad, and need to feel and process that sadness. And yes, this means that even when I’m alone, I ought to remember to smile. Because even though smiling makes us open to other people, it’s just as important to feel the good feelings that come from smiling, and to make ourselves feel warm, welcome, and loved.
I am smiling now–are you?
PS–FYI, I wrote this entirely on my iPad using Pages and the pop-up keypad. Not bad, huh?