I remember a time when I was worried about one of my teenage sons. I prayed long and hard asking God to teach me how to demonstrate my deep love for him. The impression I received was simple – smile. This answer perplexed me. Still, I gave it a try. I began smiling at my son more often. I made an effort to catch his eye and smile at him during breakfast and at supper. Before he left for school, I hugged, kissed and smiled at him. When he was driving away in the car, I waved and smiled. When he got home, I smiled. Something happened to me because of those smiles. I felt more love for my son. My heart softened toward him. I noticed myself appreciating him more and becoming keenly aware of his courage in the face of adolescence. I wasn’t sure at the time if he noticed or if it meant anything to him. Teenage boys aren’t famous for expressing tender emotions. Some time later I received a letter from this son who had become an adult.
“Dear Mom, thank you for smiling at me. When I was making my most difficult decisions I would see your face in my mind, smiling,” he wrote. “I knew you loved me and it made all the difference.”
Smiling creates an instant connection – a universal language that says, “Hi! I notice you. I like what I see.” Smiling is something positive we do that elevates our thoughts and the thoughts of the one receiving the smile. Grinning helps the person we smile at feel noticed, accepted and validated. Yes, some chronically grouchy people will be suspicious and will not respond in kind – but even then we can drive them crazy wondering what we’re up to.
Like learning to play a musical instrument, smiling will not come naturally at first. If we want to get good at something, we have to practice. When I played the violin for the first time, I didn’t know how to hold the bow or where to place my fingers on the strings. The sound I produced was scratchy and ear piercing. Likewise, our first cautious smiles won’t instantly produce a sudden change in life as we know it. In fact we may feel uncomfortable and even embarrassed at first. Most people start out smiling tentatively - ready to take back their smile if it’s not returned. If we keep trying, our efforts to smile easily and often will soon become a habit. The more we smile, the more others will be drawn to us. Smiling and receiving a smile is a simple moment of connected joy.