“Smile!” he said as I took his fast food order. It was a busy lunch rush and there was a long line of impatient people behind him. I was 19 years old and this was my first real job. (Well, not counting baby sitting.)
When I didn’t smile immediately, he spoke again. He might have said, “Come on, things can’t be that bad.” Or, “Such a pretty face should have a smile on it.” I don’t remember exactly.
What I do remember is feeling embarrassed, chastised, and angry. I hadn’t been working long, but I knew it wouldn’t be okay to say, “Stand in my shoes right now and let’s see how much you smile!”
It also stirred up self doubt… Was I being a bad employee? Was I miserable and didn’t know it? Does everyone think I look unhappy?
While I’ll never know what was in that man’s mind, I seriously doubt that he wanted me to feel criticized. He may have thought I needed cheering up. The truth is, being able to smile in the middle of the lunch rush would have benefited both me and the customers. As a shy teenager, I didn’t possess that emotional wisdom.
A smile can be a shining beam of kindness and grace.
Think about the last time someone’s face lit up with a smile when they looked at you. You might even be grinning now as you think about it. A smile gives so many gifts. It can make you feel seen, valued, and cared about. Receiving those gifts feels fantastic, right?
Smiling is a gift to yourself, as well as a gift to others. So, why not give yourself a gift right now?
I invite you to experiment with the following five step process:
Step 1: Close your eyes and notice how you feel.
Step 2: Take a slow deep breath in and slowly exhale.
Step 3: Lift the corners of your mouth into a smile.
Step 4: Choose an uplifting focal point, such as a happy memory, a positive affirmation, or a blessing you are grateful for.
Step 5: Notice how you feel as you smile with that positive focus for a few moments.
The combination of uplifting thought and lifting up the corners of your mouth is a powerful pairing.
If you prefer, this process can also be done with your eyes open. You could either open your eyes after doing step one, or you could notice how you feel and move through all of the steps without closing your eyes. This gives you the option to play with smiling while you’re doing other things.
I like to smile while I’m engaged in self-care activities. For example, while I’m meditating, walking, or writing in my gratitude journal. I find it amplifies the “feel good” experience of those practices.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I would never suggest that you force yourself to smile if you’re experiencing a devastating loss, and I would never tell you to hide your pain behind a smile. There’s a big difference between consciously choosing to smile to lift your spirits, and habitually smiling to suppress unwanted emotions. Smiling to avoid vulnerability is not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about looking for opportunities to practice smiling and seeing how it feels… when you’re bored sitting at a red light, or when you notice an unproductive thought stream in your head, or when you’re doing a mundane task like folding laundry, etc., etc.
You could also choose to give the gift of a smile to others… the clerk at the convenience store, the person sitting next to you at yoga, or the person ringing up your fast food lunch.
I look back with compassion at my shy teenage self, as she struggled to speedily get everyone’s lunch order right. In my imagination I’m shining a smile at her, and letting her know that everything’s going to be okay.
What brings a smile to your face? Please share in the comments below.
Kim McIntyre is the founder of Joyful Being, a website that helps people to live with less stress and more joy. Her personal need to shed stress led her to amass an extensive collection of stress relief tools which she shares for free through her newsletter, The Joyful Being Experience. She is a Certified Laughter Leader, a Certified Stress Reduction Specialist and has taught yoga & meditation for many years. She has just launched Laughter On Demand, an audio download which teaches you how to crack yourself up for fun & well being. Connect with her on Facebook and on YouTube.