Walking into the grocery store today, I heard a vibration in my head clearly saying ‘Be the smile of this place.’
It was not a conscious intention (although those are great too), but rather a clear directive out of the mystery. I was happy to follow; buying kale is much more interesting on a secret mission.
I enjoyed a few smiles with strangers in the produce section. Many smiled back; some did not. Directing smiles at random people is like gift-giving. The goal is to give, not to get something back. If there is a boomerang effect, it is a bonus. If there is nothing, don’t take it personally. We have no idea what is going on in people’s private worlds.
At the check out I ended up in an enormous lineup of agitated people suffering from the hurry-up syndrome. No judgment—it’s an illness I am quite familiar with myself. I started to think of the smile energy like a laser beam, able to cut through the dismal scene of pent up frustration in front of me.
This place was begging for seduction. Not the hot steamy kind, but something every bit as sensual. To seduce is to lure or persuade, in this case to lead astray from the boring hum of a collective whine.
The woman in front of me turned around, seeking a co-miser. As a huge warm smile spread across my face, I watched her change her mind. Noting I wasn’t a suitable co-complainer, she looked away instead of speaking. Okay, I didn’t quite seduce her into a smile, but maybe I helped shut down some errant energy. It didn’t really matter. At that moment I realized the fun of the game; I was seducing myself as much as anyone else.
Glancing sideways, I noticed a magazine headline that was actually telling me who ‘the sexiest man in the world’ is. Not even a hint of a smile on him. I guess that melancholy, confused look is what sexy is all about. Oh boy, I had my work cut out for me.
There is definitely a time and place for that seriously moody seduction face, but is that really the best calling card to put out into this big world? Old fashioned as it might sound, don’t we save that face for later?
Three others in my vicinity were having an unbearable time with the line-ups. I let one person go ahead of me. Another woman looked at me with suspicion. Isn’t it crazy how we can be mistrustful of people that seem too happy? Sending a smile-beam at another guy a couple aisles over, I saw his edge soften.
‘Maybe he was kinder to the clerk in the end?’ I thought, hopeful about the wider importance of my mission.
We all know how to do it. As babies we learned how to smile soon after birth, our grins quickly turning to giggles and then whole-body laughing fits. What makes us stop sharing them openly? Our wounds? Our five-year plan? Our culture? Tell me it’s not our desire to be mysteriously sexy!
Any good traveler knows that smiling at strangers is not the norm in every culture. Smiling invites a certain kind of openness to connection, which may not be appropriate or even safe in certain settings.
In India I put my smile on ‘mute’ when I’m traveling through crowded streets so I can blend in easier. Whenever I get home from Costa Rica I have to stop myself from smiling and waving at every other vehicle on the road. ‘Oh ya, we’re not doing that here’ I have to remind myself. It’s a bit of a thud coming back to the land of the less-smiley.
These differences are also prevalent in different parts of my own country. On our Canadian east coast if you ask someone for directions on the street, don’t be shocked if a crowd gathers around and half of them offer to personally drive you to your destination. I want to smile just thinking about that kind of friendliness.
Mother Teresa often talked about the importance of smiling. As a healer and leader, she understood its impact and made it a key part of her work and teachings. My mother was no Mother Teresa, but she was the Saint of my family. She had a happy face for everyone, making it her mission to brighten things up around her. The benefit to us all was obvious, yet sometimes I wondered about the price to her. If she was in pain, people rarely knew it. This was her path to walk.
Positivity does have the power to shift some mood states if we haven’t burrowed too deep into them. However avoidance or denial of the shadowy side of ourselves rarely has a good outcome in the long-term. Darker feelings need to see the light of day in order to be healed. So there are two sides to this business of smiling.
A word of caution: don’t go on a mission of mass seduction unless it feels authentic to do so.
I’ve attended lectures with some absolutely brilliant people who are barely able to lift the corners of their mouth. The information, while fascinating, leaves a vast distance between teacher and student. Without some lightness of spirit, the stimulation is very one-dimensional. My mind is intrigued but my Spirit doesn’t feel any lighter.
We also absorb and retain information more readily when we are relaxed, and smiling can help take us into that state. What good are all our clever ‘wellness’ practices if they don’t lead us toward a greater connectedness to the whole of humanity?
The smile energy I felt inside today was like a massive ball of warmth and connection that seemed to have no boundaries. From deep in my belly, I could feel it spread all the way up my torso and around my body. Smiling is not a new thing for me, but in this experience it was completely amplified. It was a force both inside and outside of myself.
Realizing its latitude, I directed it toward my family, my colleagues, the earth, and to anyone whose smile had rotted at the back of the fridge, grown dust bunnies in a closet of skeletons, or been abandoned in a field of forgotten dreams. The giant line-up granted me the luxury of time to spread it far and wide.
Every single one of us has pressures and deadlines and troubles. Whether we realize it or not, it is exactly those moments when the warmth of a seemingly minor encounter can break us out of our self-made bondage.
If you don’t think you have time for it, don’t worry. There are enough waiting rooms, red lights and line-ups to give us all a chance to practice.
Next time you are overwhelmed by the state of the world, get out there and smile at people. Take your innocent seduction skills to the masses. A genuine, sparkling-eyed smile that isn’t looking for anything in return can brighten up this world. It is also, in my humble opinion, the sexiest thing ever.
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Editor: Dana Gornall