Why have we stopped smiling?
"Life is like a mirror, we get the best results when we smile at it." - Author Unknown
The sky was grey, my mood was blue and the day was Monday - not a good combination I said to myself as I shuffled along to catch the bus to work.
The yellow Go Wellington bus trundled to a stop and I hopped on. I was slightly taken aback when greeted by a rotund, pink-faced bus driver who tipped his cap and flashing a genial smile, greeted me in a cheery, sing song voice, "Good morning - how are you today? Hope you have a lovely day!"
A ray of sunshine pierced the gloom, my pursed lips eased into a smile. As I made my way to the back of the crowded bus, I could hear the driver greeting every passenger in the same vein. I noticed as I sat down, that while some returned the smile, some did not and merely ignored him. But that didn't seem to deter the man in the least.
As we drove off, our friendly driver broke spontaneously into a song, something on the lines of "I love to sing a merry song as I drive my bus along...tra la la la".
Again responses were mixed - some looked amused and others clearly thought he had gone round the bend. He continued to sing. And every time a passenger got off - he smiled and wished them a good day.
As I stepped off, the spring had returned to my step and my heart was as light as a feather. And all that had happened between hop on and hop off was a smile. I looked around at my fellow commuters and found that merely a handful of them were smiling. Some looked expressionless, others sombre, some listless, some stressed as they plodded on. And I thought - "Why have we stopped smiling?"
I was born a smiley child. I smiled at everything and often got into trouble for it. Like the day when my chemistry teacher Mrs. John unceremoniously ejected me from the classroom because I was smiling while she expounded on how two molecules of iron reacted with three molecules of sulphuric acid magically resulting in a molecule of ferrous sulphate and two molecules of hydrogen.
I still don't get why balancing that equation was so important when most equations in life remain unbalanced anyway. The poor teacher was at her wit's end when she later found me still smiling even in my state of supposed disgrace.
She obviously thought I was having too much fun in the corridor so she brought me back in as I fought hard to control my giggles.
"Never smile at strangers - it's risky", someone warned. "If you smile too often, people think you're too nice and walk over you," said another; "Don't smile too much at work - people will think you're too happy and take you for granted"; "People will think you're eccentric if you smile all the time".
All of this was well-meant advice, except that I soon started to wonder if I had a strange malady and often felt like a weirdo when I smiled and greeted workmates or strangers.
The managing director at my first job, when I was fresh out of college, once asked me: "You're always smiling Kaushiki - what makes you smile so much?" So I started rationing the smiles and then life took over and the smiles got fewer and fewer.
Like everything else, smiles change as we go through life - they generally start straightening out as life gets curvier till they settle down into a pasted grimace almost.
There's the toothless, cherubic smile of the little baby, the mischievous grin of the pre-schooler when caught redhanded, the sheepish, awkward smile of the teenager, the nervous smile when on one's first date, the coy smile of a bride, the prim and proper smile on the first day of work, the bemused smile of the mid-career professional and finally the cynical smile of the one who has seen it all.
The genuine Duchenne smile reaches the eyes as opposed to the stick on or Pan Am smile. Then there's the slick salesman smile and the Mr. Know-it-all style. There's the self-assured Cheshire cat smile and of course the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. We also have wicked and dodgy smiles. The happy smile and the sad smile. The Buddha smile is the one we all actually want but don't realise it.
The Go Wellington bus driver taught me how to smile again - in happiness and in pain. He showed me that there's always something worth smiling about in good weather and in bad weather, when things are right and when things go wrong. Because each day is like unwrapping a new gift - we never know what's inside. We may not like the gift every time. But we're always given what we really need but don't necessarily want.
I smile at strangers, I smile at friends, I smile at the world in general and more importantly I smile at myself. Life's too short to be doing anything else.
"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight", some wise person once said. It's a sight for sore eyes, a balm for troubled souls. It builds trust, is a symbol of compassion, love, friendship and all such good things. It's a universal language. And the best part is that it takes far less effort to smile than to frown.
What's more, research proves smiling is good for us - boosts our immune system, relieves stress, even lowers blood pressure. It works well on friends and even better on enemies. A smile can charm, a smile can disarm. Yet we don't smile enough. I wonder why?
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Would you send your child to a total immersion school of another culture?Related story: (See story)