Don’t forget to smile.
I regret to inform you that the international experiment that I’ve been conducting full time is not going quite as well as we’d like.
I call it “The Smile Test.” I know, this is a vastly inspired moniker—I’ll wait for the applause to die down. The Smile Test involves grinning at a stranger in the audacious hope of reciprocation. Since smiles are contagious, the goal is to infect as many people in a day as possible, much like the death goals of someone who’s been run over by a fuel truck on The Walking Dead.
I’ve conducted this experiment for several years now and have beamed in the face of strangers all over the US, Canada, Italy, France, the UK, parts of Asia and the Middle East, in airports, restaurants, shopping malls, zoos, dog shows, a bodybuilding competition, while taking my cat to the vet for her urinary tract infection and exiting Porta-Potties at a salmon festival.
Some common responses:
- Smile recipient stares back blankly, one eyebrow raised, mouth ajar.
- Smile recipient assumes you are insane, clutches their belongings, and contemplates diving down the nearest manhole.
- Smile recipient appears irritated, pulls a face like a constipated llama.
- Smile recipient averts their eyes, forcing you to check that you put on clothes this morning.
- Smile recipient looks bored, regards you as one might gaze dismissively at a landfill.
I’m not sure why a smile can instigate these responses, but I’ve learned not to take them personally. It is purely a reflection of what the smile recipient is going through. I’d ask you to keep smiling. Keep offering this one, tiny unobtrusive act of kindness that can flip a bad day like an omelette soufflé.
You might find the Smile Test to be more of a challenge in big cities like Los Angeles, New York and London, as I have, the implications of which are interesting. Although we are packed into a city like the toppings on a Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP!DEEP!™ Dish Pizza—so much so they we are sometimes almost fornicating on the subway—we aren’t really engaging with one another, unwilling to acknowledge the souls we rub elbows/buttocks with.
Let’s change it. Because when a smile is mirrored back to you, several things happen, some of them even a bit sciencepantsy.
A smile engages somewhere around twelve facial muscles. Daily workout: check! Smiles have been found to be more attractive and much less likely to give you raccoon eyes than makeup.
You are also more likely to be promoted at work if you are a smiler. A returned smile is worth your persistence. It is a momentous act of love, an invitation to the present, a burst of bliss. It’s free and it’s priceless.
It takes pep and courage to perform the Smile Test. It takes knowing that you don’t have control of the smile recipient’s response, and trust in the good vibes you’re willing to share and keep sharing regardless of an outcome. There may well be many positive outcomes that you won’t ever get to see, and that’s alright, because the Smile Test is as beneficial to the smiler, relieving stress and leveling up your immune system and mood. The gift of the Smile Test is that it can proliferate, much like baby rabbits and bed bugs.
So, I challenge you to join me in the Smile Test Quest. Go forth and spread a bit of sunshine. Be careful not to smile too hard. A tip: if your pancreas is exposed, dial it back a skosh. Flashing a smile is almost effortless and a tiny, joyful reminder that we’re all in this together, all toppings working to ameliorate the Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP!DEEP!™ Dish Pizza of life. It’s a cross-cultural gesture that can be done anywhere since it’s the universal sign for happiness. So help me out, work those zygomaticus major muscles and show us your denticles! Mona Lisa, the Cheshire Cat and SpongeBob SquarePants are on to something.
I will be especially looking forward to your smile. I miss your teeth.
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr