At the Heart of Smiling


Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. ― Mother Teresa

By Mark E. Smith

My father-in-law, a retired pastor, told me a great story over dinner.

He said, “My best friend, Gary, and I were both pastoring, and I noticed that at the end of services, everyone hugged Gary, while they only shook my hand. So, I asked Gary why that was? Gary replied, ‘You stick out your hand, while I open my arms….’”

What the two pastors were really discussing was that we receive what we offer. If you want a hand shake, put out your hand and you’ll get one. If you want a hug, open your arms and you’ll get one!

For me, I’ve always smiled. From as young as anyone can recall of me, I was always smiling. Part of it is my innate disposition, but the other part of it, as I’ve come to understand, is an appreciation for life. I’ve been through my share of adversities – and will forever struggle with some – and it’s gratitude toward all of it that keeps a joyful smile on my face.

However, smiling is more than only about my disposition or gratitude. It goes back to the conversation the pastors had. Truly, if you want to see the world smile, smile at it. I often share this story. I was at Walmart with my sister several years ago, and she noted how friendly and nice customers and employees were to me – the complete opposite of her experience of everyone being somber. I asked her to watch as we continued shopping. Per my usual, I smiled and made eye contact with complete strangers where that led to an exchange of a friendly how-are-you? “Just smile at people,” I said. “It changes everything.”

I’m at the point now where I smile at pretty much everyone. On my route to work, a crossing guard shared with me that she learned who I was by asking a friend in the neighborhood, “Who’s the guy in the power chair who’s always smiling?” If I’m at a stop light in my van, I’ll smile at those in cars next to me, and it’s amazing how a gruff guy’s demeanor will change or a woman will blush – a smile is a powerful exchange.

And, there’s science to this all. Firstly, smiling triggers a happiness feedback loop in our brain, so whether we smile because we’re happy or we become happy because we smile, it works. Secondly, numerous studies have shown that smiling increases our success, from home life to career. The average person smiles 20 times per day, whereas ultra-successful people smile 40 to 60 times per day. Smiles are warm, inviting and sincere – they’re a people magnet because we’re drawn to happiness.

Of course, I do run into being stereotyped sometimes based on my smiling. Well-meaning individuals noting my cerebral palsy come right out and ask, “How is it that someone in your predicament can find a reason to smile?”

I just smile and reply, “A life where you smile at the world and it smiles back at you is a fortunate predicament to be in….”


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

3 thoughts on “At the Heart of Smiling”

  1. Mark, What do you do on days you don’t feel like smiling? Or, in situations you don’t feel like or it may not be appropriate to smile?

    After reading this essay, I’ve decided to make a New Year’s resolution to smile at people more. I’ve already started doing it.

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