how a smile changed the world
To claim that one smile can change the world is a pretty sanguine statement. I mean, really? One smile? The whole world? For as small as social media has made it seem, geographically the world is still a pretty large place. So the thought of one single smile changing all 196.9 million square miles of our planet seems like a bit of a stretch.
But what if it that idea isn’t crazy? What if one smile really can change the world? Before you roll your eyes and write me off as an unrealistic optimist, let me explain why I've suddenly been reevaluating the legitimacy of that idea.
It all started last Friday:
I was having a pretty bad day, and I was extremely grumpy. I was annoyed, frustrated, sleep deprived, a little hungry, a lot emotionally drained, and my bad mood was written all over my face. I was in the car driving, completely tuned out from the world. I wasn’t even singing along to the radio, which for me is my biggest tell that something is wrong. I always sing in the car. Always. But not that day. That day I was pissed and it showed.
I pulled into Wawa to get a few things for a long drive I was about to take out of state. I walked in and avoided eye contact with everyone. Why smile? It doesn’t matter. People don’t notice, and they don’t care. And they never smile back.
So, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to smile. I was going to stay in my little dark bubble and pretend no one else was there.
And so, when the guy at the coffee station made a joke about the hot chocolate I was putting in my coffee, I refused to engage him in conversation like I normally would have. Instead, I gave a slight nod, a bare minimum acknowledgment of his existence, and walked away.
I was feeling bratty, and I wanted the world to know it. I wanted the world to know what it had done to me. And I wanted the world to know that I had officially given up on it.
But then something happened. A light happened. A light in the form of a short, middle-aged woman with a green winter parka and a beautiful, contagious spirit. This woman was two people ahead of me in the line at the check-out counter.
Up until this point, everyone in the store had just been going through the motions: the cashier with her monotonous and disinterested “Hi, how are you, will this be all?” followed by the hurried reply from the anxious customer trying to rush her along, the mother standing in front of me engrossed in a vapid conversation with her teenage son about gum flavors, and then me, with my own self-consumed demeanor, just adding to the dismal environment. I was leaning against the counter, staring at my phone and doing my best to block out everything around me.
But then . . . the woman in the green parka stepped up for her turn to check out.
“A box of Marlboro Lights, please.”
Just an average woman making a simple request for a common brand of cigarettes. It was completely unassuming and yet it changed everything.
There was something very different about the sound of her request. The entire sentence she spoke sounded different because each word she used had been carefully formed through an authentic smile. I looked up.
This wasn’t your normal, polite, run-of-the-mill, fake, friendly smile. This was a SMILE. A genuine, full-of-feeling smile that she was giving for no reason at all. It was the kind you can’t help but stare at, completely entranced. The kind that makes even the hardest of hearts smile in return because it’s too amazing to leave hanging on its own. You want to join in. You want to smile. And smile we did.
Every single one of us got hit by it. All of a sudden, the cashier was full of energy and became engaged in conversation with the customers. She made eye contact and laughed, joked, and smiled for the first time since I had been in the store. The people ahead of me smiled and laughed. And then, most surprising of all given my own determination to make the world know how pissed off I was, I smiled and laughed.
I smiled the kind of smile that I secretly hate because it makes my face look all weird and contorted: full faced, eyes all crinkled up, cheeks stretched to the limit. But this time, I loved it.
I was happy because there is no possible way to smile that big and not be happy. And the reason I smiled that big is because the woman in the green parka’s smile had flooded me with the urge to choose happiness, the same way she had chosen happiness.
I am convinced this woman has a lot of trials in her life. We all do. But the difference is in how she chose to react to those trials. She was probably just as anxious, overwhelmed, and worried about life as the rest of us, and she seemed like she may have been struggling financially. She could have easily joined us in our miserable self-pity and no one would have blamed her. But instead, she chose the harder path. She chose to be a source of light rather than another source of darkness.
She understood that happiness is a daily, sometimes even moment to moment, decision, and somewhere along the lines she decided she was going to be happy despite her circumstances. She didn’t let all of the negative attitudes in the store bring her down and, because of her strength and light, she was actually able to lift the rest of us up. She chose to smile and what happened? It made other people happy.
That smile changed my entire day. I got in the car and was grinning ear to ear. I turned the radio up and sang every song. I looked at other people in the cars next to me at red lights and I smiled at them. I danced and drummed the dashboard and then laughed out loud at myself. I enjoyed the day.
I got stuck in Philly traffic for an hour which made my trip an hour longer than it should have been, and I didn’t care. I was laughing and dancing and singing and smiling and happy the whole time. All because of that woman’s decision.
I am so grateful to her for reminding me who I want to be: I want to be a spreader of light and love, even on the days and in the moments when it’s the hardest and when I don’t really feel like it. I want to smile anyway and do for other people what she did for me.
There were about five of us in line at Wawa whose days were completely turned around by that one smile. Suppose the five of us then smiled for the rest of the day and we each changed the days of five more people . . . That’s 25 happy people.
And then suppose us 25 happy individuals then smiled for the rest of the day and changed the days of five more people each . . . That’s 125 happy people. And what if it didn’t stop there?
What if one smile sparks another smile which sparks another, which starts a ripple effect of smiles until everyone in the world has experienced the true beauty and freedom that comes with choosing to be happy despite negative situations? What if we can in fact create a world full of smiles, and those smiles bring happiness, and that happiness brings love?
And all it took to start that love was a courageous woman who decided to believe and act on the crazy notion that one smile really can change the world.
I know it changed mine.
you are worthy
I’ve spent the majority of my life living in subjection to a very intense fear of vulnerability. Paralyzed under the strength of it’s reign, I would let it affect every aspect of my life, often going to great lengths to avoid all forms of emotional intimacy. I kept others an arm’s length away at all times and built up ironclad walls around the core of myself. I was always on alert: if someone happened to threaten the security of one of those walls, I would immediately become defensive and push away.
But a propensity to self-inflict emotional alienation is not exactly healthy, and I think I knew it, even before beginning this journey. I was aware that I was subconsciously sabotaging every relationship in my life, but I didn’t understand myself well enough at the time to know why I was doing it or how I could stop repeating the behavior. The funny thing about those metaphorical walls is that they didn’t just keep others from accessing my emotions, they kept me from accessing them as well.
I couldn’t understand what I was feeling because I wasn’t allowing myself to go that deep within my own heart. Through this journey, I was able to slowly break down the walls and, in doing so, finally see why I had built them in the first place.
It turns out my fear of vulnerability stemmed from an even deeper fear: rejection. And that fear stemmed from the belief that rejection was all I deserved or would ever earn. So, in the name of self-preservation, I became determined to always be the one to leave first. I was truly convinced that if anyone did stay and got to know me too well, they’d eventually realize that I wasn’t good enough to love. That something was wrong with me. That I was broken.
Well, obviously something was broken, but it wasn’t me. It was the way I felt about me. It was a life-changing moment when I finally understood the magnitude of the difference between the two and realized the reason I thought no one could ever love me was because I didn’t love me.
I wasn’t unworthy and I wasn’t broken, I only felt unworthy and felt broken, which made me constantly doubt myself and my own existence. But that’s such a warped and unhealthy view of life!
We are all created with a great capacity to love and accept love in return. Our very existence is based on Love (I capitalize “Love” here for a reason: the english language only has one word to describe the many different forms of love, so I use a capital “L” to represent the all-consuming, all-forgiving, unconditional form of love that we were each designed to know, give and receive).
The questioning of our existence happens when that idea of Love gets thwarted, which it so often unfortunately does.
Maybe it’s been distorted due to a childhood where there was no true example of capital “L” Love. No example of a Love that is willing to sacrifice or humble itself for the sake of another. Maybe there was only an example of love that was prideful, maybe even spiteful, and contingent on reciprocation. Maybe there was a lack of attention, a lack of warmth, or even a history of abuse.
As a result of these flawed examples of love, we end up feeling broken and damaged. We start to believe that the reason we never received capital “L” Love is because we just weren’t worth it.
Then, as we grow older, we believe that if we weren’t good enough for Love back then, we’ll never be good enough for Love, ever. We start placing conditions on ourself and our worth, saying: “When I achieve this goal, maybe then i’ll finally be worthy of love. Then, I’ll be happy. Then, my life will mean something.”
But your life means something now.
You are worthy of love now. The very fact that you are breathing means you are being held up in love, even if you don’t yet feel its presence. You have the ability to become its presence, you just have to start believing in the power you have to change your own story. And you do hold the power here.
You have the power to choose happiness and you have the power to give yourself what no one else did: forgiveness, attention, Love.
It starts with acknowledging everything you’ve felt and are currently feeling. If you were never validated as a child, you can start validating yourself now and giving yourself permission to feel your own emotions. If you were abused in the past, you can be the one to start treating yourself with the dignity and respect you’ve always deserved, instead of self-continuing the abuse.
You can be an example to yourself now of the Love you’ve always wanted, but never felt worthy of. You are not broken and you are not unworthy. You only feel unworthy.
By changing your mind, you can change yourself and become a living example of unconditional Love. Once you start to give yourself and others that Love, you will stop falling for the lies that call you undeserving.
Uppercase or lowercase love: We all have to decide which one we’re going to accept and which one we’re going to give. Once you choose capital “L” Love, your life will never be the same. You will never be the same. You won’t feel broken anymore, you’ll just feel Loved.
Loved. With a capital “L”.