Tuesday, April 29, 2014
A Little Smile Goes a Long Way
I have this habit. I do it all the time, every day--it must not be normal though, because most of the time, I get these very strange looks: always unfriendly, always looking at me as though I should be shipped off to an asylum.
It hasn't always been like this, though. It feels like a recent development, its occurrence growing exponentially in a matter of simple years.
I call it: The frown complex.
Okay, that's not true-- I just made that name up right now. I usually just call it 'the rude individual' and occasionally follow it up with a passive aggressive behavior.
Basically, what happens is this: I'm walking along, minding my own business, and I come across The Stranger. I could be on the sidewalk, in a store, in the gym, at work, it's been known to happen pretty much anywhere. We (The Stranger and I) make eye contact, and I proceed to smile, perhaps even give a slight nod of my head as if to indicate 'hello, we are occupying a similar space at the same time.' And I am met with... the opposite of a smile. A deadpan. A frown.
What is UP with this? I mean-- even if you don't want to give me a full smile, why not just a little half-smile? Just enough to acknowledge and possibly let me know that you saw me smile at you and you aren't actually a miserable human being all the time. When I first noticed this reaction (or lack thereof) happening with increasing frequency, I'd still smile, and I'd nearly always be left hanging, a stupid grin on my face, staring at the most unkind expression that seemed to mock me (Admittedly, the mocking was likely in my head, but the absolute unfriendliness most certainly wasn't). But, now, I've switched up. That automatic smile is gone, it has been wiped from my face. Indeed, I no longer smile at strangers without provocation. In fact, when I happen to catch The Stranger's eye, I take great care to make sure my mouth stays firmly in place, the corners of my mouth down-turned, my eyes slightly glazed over as I stare blankly. At the beginning, this whole 'not smiling' thing was pretty difficult for me. I was so used to smiling at strangers, being friendly and polite, that it just came naturally to me, a full smile, showing my pearly whites.
But, now, it's a game. It's Look At the Stranger and Don't Smile. And, I've become quite good at it. I pull my face into a resting position, and maintain eye contact, making sure my lips don't turn upward or move in any way that could possibly be interpreted as a friendly gesture of any kind.
I know what you're thinking: That sounds a little extreme. And, I'll admit that it does. However, like all people, even the friendliest/most polite of us all have our breaking point. Mine came a few months ago.
There is this lady I see pretty frequently--the first time I saw her, I complimented her coffee cup, and had a full on conversation with her about it during which I was very nice and complimentary and friendly in general. So, you know, I thought we were on our way to being casual 'exchange niceties' pals. Boy, was I wrong.
The next time I saw her was in passing, I smiled at her. My efforts were returned with an icy, deadpan stare. 'Surely it was an accident!' I thought, always keen to give unfriendly people the benefit of the doubt. 'She was having a bad day, or maybe she wasn't actually paying attention and didn't see you.'
So, the next time I saw her, I smiled again, coupled it with a little nod. Same exact response. I continued to smile at her the next five times I saw her (give or take, I didn't actually keep count) before I finally decided to give up. Now, it's a game I play with myself. If I see her and don't smile and offer her instead a mirror of the same bored, disinterested, unfriendly look she gives me, I reward myself with a smile after she's out of my eyesight, and a mental pat on the back. It's been months, and I haven't smiled at her once.
Perhaps this seems a little absurd, but I was taught to always be polite, and to always smile--and just to not be rude in general. Pardon my saying so, but I think that offering someone an unfriendly look when he or she has smiled at you certainly falls in that category. Is a smile so hard?
I know there's a campaign going around about not telling women to smile, and I totally get where that's coming from. Yes, women are not toys or dolls that have to smile on command when a man says 'you'd be so much prettier if you'd smile.' or whatever. But, aside from the ornamental use of a smile, there is another purpose that it can serve: it can let people know 'hey, you're not alone. I'm here, too.' and you know? That can work wonders.
My point is this: stop being rude. In case you're not moved by, oh, I don't know, common decency, here are a few facts about smiles:
1. Forcing yourself to smile can actually boost your mood, according to psychologists.
2. Smiles relieve stress, according to psychologists.
3. Babies are born with the ability to smile. (so, I know you know how, Grumpy Pants).
4. There are 19 different types of smiles. (I'll take any one you've got, GP).
5. Smiling makes you more relaxed, and boosts your immune system, thereby making you healthier.
6. Smiling is the universal sign of happiness everyone can understand.
7. It's actually literally easier to smile than it is to throw that miserable looking frown around.
So, if you see me out in the streets and I withhold my smile, fixing you with a glazed over look, and you should happen to smile at me? I'll smile back--because yes, you are not alone. I'm here, too, stuck in this world full of people who don't know how to do anything except look absolutely miserable.