There is a good reason to smile today: It is World Smile Day. Harvey Ball, the creator of the Smiley Face in 1963, introduced this day in 1999 to give greater meaning to the smile than the commercialised emoticom his Smiley Face became. Although Harvey Ball died in 2001, his message lives on in the celebration of World Smile Day on the first Friday of October every year. On the website dedicated to keeping this day alive with smiles it simply states: Do an act of kindness: help one person SMILE.
In 1990, long before this day became a celebration, I learned how a smile can, in fact, be an act of kindness.
It was a hot and sticky day in Paris. Sitting on a crowded metro train in the late afternoon with a heavy backpack on my lap, I must have looked a sight of dejection. After struggling with high school French all day in an unsuccessful bid to find a compatible printer for a laptop I had purchased in the United States, a sense of deep tiredness and almost defeat overcame me. Something made me look up – straight into the face of a woman on the other side of the carriage who was smiling at me. It was so unexpected and even rare, that I completely forgot how I was feeling and smiled back.
At the next station the train came to a halt and the woman stepped into the stream of passengers making their way to the metro exit. To my surprise she stopped, turned, and searched for my face at the window. She smiled again as if to say, “Everything will work out.” In the next instant, she was lost in the crowd.
With a lighter heart I arrived at yet another computer store just before closing time. Yes, they had a printer compatible for my computer – and an instruction book in English. What a relief! Yet it was not the success of finding a printer that day that I remember most, it was the woman’s smile. And as I remember, my lips automatically curl into a smile and I feel an endorphin enhanced twinkle in my eyes.
Since then I have learned that a smile can drive out depression, negative thoughts, and even stop an argument dead in its tracks – all in an instant. A smile can reduce stress by lowering cortisol production. It can make you feel happier and lighter by triggering the release of ‘happy’ chemicals – dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. I now like to begin each day with a smile, and this is how I do it.
I crumble up the crusts from my toast (made with home baked bread) and go out into my garden just off the deck and call out, “Good morning Mr. Blackbird, come and get your breakfast.” And usually, with a flurry of wings, a blackbird lands nearby in a tree and waits while I place the breadcrumbs in a little pile on the garden. As I retreat inside he hurriedly eats his fill and flies to the top of the garden tank for a drink before disappearing again into the bush. And I smile. And I smile again each time he returns to eat more crumbs over the next hour or two.
By this time, the cloud I may have begun the day under has evaporated, and I settle into my research and writing with a light heart. This is the way my gift to the blackbird each morning comes back to me.
I hope by now you are smiling.
More about the benefits of smiling: Jill Goldson: 6 reasons you should smile