There’s always more to write about everything. In this era, small portions are more readily consumed. So here’s another small portion about the remarkable power of smiling and why it’s relevant to people like me who did too little of it throughout life.
I wrote this about smiling a while back, if you want a primer.
In that other post, I wrote this: “When traveling, I smile so much my face hurts. It pays off, especially in countries where language is a barrier.”
Fifteen years ago, on a trip to Turkey with my teenage sons, I smiled relentlessly for two weeks to measure the effect. It worked spectacularly well. A smile is universal. No words are needed. Everybody gets it. A smiling person is one who might be a friend, not just another demanding travelling irritation. I’d smile at a bus ticket dispenser and be rewarded with good seats for a long ride. I’d smile at strangers in the street and they’d smile back making everything feel safe and benevolent. I smiled at a rug merchant and he took the three of us, no charge, on a day-long journey into the Tarsus Mountains (less than three hours from the later-to-be-obliterated Allepo in Syria) to visit nomads who hunted with raptors and village women who wove rugs with goat wool. We cooked fresh lamb over a wood fire beside a waterfall and ate it with explosively tasty tomatoes. And I kept smiling day after day. And a beautiful Swiss woman responded with a smile of her own. (My sons smiled at that.)
Once you learn the power of a smile, you never stop wanting to spark it. It’s like finding the key to the treasury.
I’m less than happy to report that without practice, if you are me, you can so easily revert to the stone face that was so well practiced over decades of too much seriousness. (I think to myself, “My frightening father stole my smile. I need to wrest it back.”)
It’s easy for me to smile in an instant with children. They deserve a smile every time we look into their faces. Anything less is discouragement by degree. And it’s fairly easy with friends and strangers, because that’s how we want to be perceived, as friendly and buoyant.
The trick is to smile at home with family, and, harder still, in private with oneself. I envy the people who privately smile. Catching them in the act is like beholding one of life’s great secrets. They know something we don’t.
This is the time of life to unlock those secrets if we haven’t already. It’s now or never.
Here’s a smile for you. Two in fact. These are Himba people in Namibia, the country next door to South Africa. The man ushers travellers into their traditional village. The woman poses for endless pictures. Somehow they have remained smiling, in his case a 1,000-watt example for us all. Those missing lower teeth, by the way, are removed on purpose to better enunciate the Himba language.