I’ve had three different topics in my head that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, and today I realized they are basically interconnected in some way. They are “the power of a smile,” “showing gratitude,” and “savoring joy.” I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, but at the risk of writing ineloquently and unamusingly (and possibly sounding like Oprah, whom I stopped watching well before my youngest was out of diapers, although she had been literally the very first person I told when I unsuspectingly aced the pregnancy test with my twins . . . or would that have been “deuced” the test? ) I’d like to examine and expound.
When I am feeling philosophical, I divide my life into two parts. No, not pre-David and post-David; nor pre-kids and post-kids. And nope, even though he predates the husband and kids, I don’t divide it between life before Barry Manilow and life after. For me, it’s life before and after my surgery. Yes, that’s why I mention it so frequently, because it was life-altering not only in a physiological way, but even more so in a psychological way. Having the opportunity to do the surgery in the first place gave me the deepest of gratitude, and I was ecstatically grateful to come through it successfully. Every day since then I have been “wired” differently – tuned in to being grateful for every little joy in each and every day and able to diminish the annoyances. And I’ve found that freely and genuinely showing gratitude – and smiling – changes every interaction you have with other people. It’s positively transformative.
Sure, we’re all taught to be polite and say thank you when the waiter brings your meal or the teller cashes your check. But all too often, I have seen very fancy people – folks who were undoubtedly brought up with refined etiquette – summarily ignore people who have provided them a service, big or small, or worse, treat them in a demeaning, subservient manner. I myself have been guilty of tossing a cursory, insincere “thanks” to a person who has served me a drink or rung up my groceries. But ever since the morning I lay there alone in pre-op, thanking people profusely for the medical care they were preparing to provide me, I have made it a point to look people in the eye, smile cheerfully, thank them sincerely, and add something kind and genuine about what a good job they’ve done or how nicely they’ve treated me or how beautiful their blue eyes are or how lovely their pretty pin is. And you know what? More often than not, they are completely disarmed. Sometimes they’ll just smile back. But sometimes they’ll smile back and use the moment to proudly tell you that the pin was from someone special, or that they’ve had a rough day and your compliment meant the world to them. Each individual interaction doesn’t change your life or theirs, but cumulatively they make a world of difference. Sort of paying it forward with kindness.
The day we first ventured down to Westport last March – 10 days post-surgery, with pillows cushioning my passenger seat and having to remember to stay on schedule with my pain meds and antibiotic – as soon as we got off at exit 18 (our lucky number, chai) it was like arriving in the Emerald City. I haven’t looked back. I wake up every day and feel so grateful to have had the opportunity and the courage and the means to move here. Having gratitude is like wearing glasses with a prescription for seeing the joy in the everyday things, which in turn makes it easy to be happy and smile sincerely.
But you can also try things in reverse and start with the smile. I’m not sure you can just wake up one day and program yourself to feel gratitude or savor joy in everyday life. I think those things evolve over time or surface with life circumstances; they are things you really have to feel deeply within your soul. But smiling is something you can just decide to do one day, and see if and how it changes things. Smile when you thank someone in person or on the phone. You can’t help but add some cheer to your voice, and often it will change the demeanor of the person you’re talking to. That makes the seemingly insignificant act of smiling doubly powerful – it gives you a lift and it just might momentarily brighten up the recipient’s day. Give it a try as an experiment for a week and see what happens. I promise you won’t regret it.