Recently I shared the benefits of smiling which include living longer, having happier marriages, and being perceived as more likable. These things all sounded great and I wanted to put them to the test, to smile at people and get a smile in return.
My first challenge was our youngest daughter. We were sitting down to a family dinner and she was pouting about either having to eat something she didn’t want or not eat something she did want. That’s how most of our food discussions at home go – not being served enough food from the marshmallow/chocolate food group. She sat there pouting and instead of explaining to her the virtues of micronutrients and why she couldn’t have all the sugar she wanted, I smiled. I talked to the other members of our family and kept smiling – and it worked. Eventually she smiled back and began eating the peas she was refusing. Plus one for the power of smiling.
The next day I was picking her up from preschool and thought I would try to bring a bit of joy to her teacher. Being around 18 four-year-olds cant’ be the most relaxing job one could have so she might need some of the endorphins I was inspiring. I waited in the line of parents to collect my daughter and when it was my turn I stepped to the door wearing a big smile like it was an “I Voted Today” button. It worked again! Though she is a cheery teacher and probably smiles alot, she wasn’t smiling before I arrived and she was smiling after she met me. I think scientist call this a natural experiment, I’m calling it further proof that I can bring smiles to people. At this point I feel my power building.
Riding this high of success, a thought occurs to me. Maybe I’m playing in the minor leagues. What if my daughter and her plucky teachers are easy smilers. What if they smile all the time and they’re already getting the benefits? I need to find people who need these smiles more. Luckily our little town has just the place.
We pull up to Taco Bell as a family the next day. Here I’ll test my chops. Only the happiest people are going to be smiling working at Taco Bell during the lunch shift. I worked at Wendys during the lunch shift and the only time I smiled was when I was eating free food. This would be a blank slate attempt. I could safely assume there were no smiles there before me and I could test how many smiles were there when we left.
After we had ordered our food at the drive-thru I told my wife about my secret mission to bring joy to the workers through a smile. She hoped they would still give us our food and not think I was a crazy man who had kidnapped this woman and her children. Not to be deterred I smiled. I smiled when asking for hot and mild sauces. I smiled when she handed over our bag of warm tortillas and cheese. I smiled when I thanked her. Not to brag, but it worked again. I was a smiling champion.
At this point I felt like the local drug dealer, only instead of dealing pills of oxycontin, I’ve got oxytocin. But I knew one more challenge awaited me. One more mountain to climb before I could declare that smiling is contagious and I was helping people live better and longer.
My final challenge was Vera, a cashier at Walmart. Vera didn’t look happy when I got in her checkout line which extended past the small soda coolers back to the clothing racks. She was handling more Christmas things than Santa’s elves but with less cheer and comparable pay. While I waited in line I let a man go ahead of me. He only had one item – a case of beer – and in his thanks he beat me to a smile. That’s nice I thought, he’s sharing the smiling love in return. That also may not have been his first case of beer that day.
Despite Vera’s attempts to the contrary, our line did move forward and I arrived for our face off.
“Hi.” I said, smiling of course.
“Hello.” Vera returned.
I smiled at her. She roughly deposited my apples in a bag. I kept smiling. She tossed some salad dressing next to my loaf of bread. I lessened my smile. Maybe she thought I was smiling sarcastically and she was exerting her revenge on my produce.
“Merry Christmas.” I said, with a lesser, though still apparent smile.
“Merry Christmas.” she said. She placed a jar of peanut butter more gently in my bag, though it may have just been cushioned by the ground coffee below.
After scanning everything she said, “It’ll be two-hundred dollars please.” she said.
I swiped my card and said, “Credit please.” At this point the smile on my face was starting to tire. She still hadn’t smiled. Didn’t she know I was, bringing a gift more valuable than frankincense, gold, or mirr? N
I smiled again as she passed me the receipt and I pushed my cart toward the exit – not smiling. Not only was I unable to get Vera to smile, but her non-smiling defeated my smiling. Like two gladiators who entered the ring, I was the one limping off.
How had that not worked? My past success made it seem like smiling was like breathing but this experience proved it not so. As I was emerging into the cold I smiled again. There, with a smile even greater than mine, was a Salvation Army volunteer ringing her bell. I stopped and gave some money – because that’s good too – and headed to my car. Smiling again.