Cambrian: Slice of Life

How a smile can change your life

Smile, what’s the use of crying …

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile …

If you just smile.

“Smile” by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons

Are you having a “burned-toast day,” one of those times when your morning began with burned toast, and nothing has gone right since?

Can you smile anyway, at least a little one? I double-dog dare you.

Go ahead, call me Pollyanna. I like being happy and looking like I am. I know every situation has a dark side, but I don’t want to wallow in it. I prefer kind actions and words, cheery endings in books and movies, pleasant interactions.

I think life would be so much better if all of us could go through our daily lives with smiles on our faces. We don’t even have to mean all of those smiles, though it sure helps if we do.

Even if you’re feeling cross or sad or mad, why not smile as if that grin reflects exactly how you feel? Pretty soon, it just might be true.

So many people look downright grumpy these days.

Grumpy people look like they not only chew nails but swallow and digest them, too. Eyebrows slammed together, mouth turned down, a hard look in their eyes. Body language is tight, angry, challenging, even mean.

“I’m tough. Stay away!”

I get that people are angry these days. Some of us have serious problems, and we’re all scared. It feels as if the world is collapsing around us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So, we’re irate. Upset. Worried. Grouchy. And grumpy.

But beware! Grumpy can be as fiercely contagious as a yawn.

So I always try to make that itty-bitty effort to smile, even if it’s just a glimmer of one. I don’t want my “burned-toast day” to ruin someone else’s nice one.

I smile at my family, friends, coworkers, casual acquaintances and rank strangers (yes, some of ’em are pretty rank). I know, as irritating as people can be, they really are amazing.

Sometimes, I’ll chirp out a “Good morning!” or say “Nice sweater, it’s a good color on you” or “What a beautiful child!”

It’s amazing how often the down-at-the-mouth people at whom I’m smiling suddenly will smile back.

Sometimes, being fairly intuitive about our safety, we wind up chatting a bit, even though these are people we don’t know and will never see again.

We’ve gotten to know people at the next table in a restaurant. We talked at length to a homeless couple and then bought their dinner. We became longtime friends with artists we met at a craft fair.

We talked with a couple who obviously felt out of their element in the upscale mall food court. When we left, they were smiling, too.

We spent a memorable hour talking on the street to a dowager in her 90s, dressed to the nines in vintage clothing, including white gloves and hat.

“You must take your wife to the Top of the Mark tonight, young man!” she admonished Husband Richard. (He did.)

On a bus ride, he and I had a long conversation with a scruffy-looking young man. He turned out to be a very funny lead soundmaster for big-ticket music events who was heading to work to install the equipment for a Bruce Springsteen concert.

You just never know. And judging books by covers doesn’t work either.

Renowned singer-songwriter and friend Jude Johnstone knows that well. On Facebook, she told us about a recent encounter in which she was taking an evening stroll in Nashville, Tennessee, and came upon a homeless man.

“He started talking to me, and I decided to sit down and listen to his story,” she wrote. “It was captivating and heart-wrenching.”

She was really intrigued, but felt “completely safe, so I listened and talked to him for an hour or so … about his kids that he is worried about and his crack-cocaine-addict ex-wife who still has them. And I felt real sorrow.

“He was good, had gotten help and made a new path but was worried about his kids, as I was. We made a strong connection,” she said … and then, “I bid him farewell.”

Jude concluded, “Moments like these are so important for us, because they remind us how much we are alike and not different,” connected by common concerns — and a few smiles.

Note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly attributed the lyrics to the song “Smile.”