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The power of a smile

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By Bob Mueller

I was five years old shopping at the grocery store with my mom. We were in the checkout line and I smiled at the lady checking out before us. The lady took a nickel from her change and gave it to me and told me my smile had made her day. She told me to keep smiling.

Years ago I heard Mother Teresa of Calcutta speak to a packed crowd at Bellarmine College’s gymnasium. Her presentation was inspiring, spiritual and unforgettable. She asked if there were any questions after her talk. One lady asked: “Mother Teresa, is there something that ordinary people can do to make the world better?’’ She simply said, “Yes. Smile at one another.”

Just a few years ago I had the opportunity to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu address a crowd of 5,000 in Baltimore, Maryland at a fund raising conference. Before his speech Archbishop Tutu went to the podium and just looked at the massive crowd, said nothing and smiled for two minutes. He totally engaged his audience before launching into his talk about apartheid.

No matter where you go, or what language people may speak, everyone in all cultures and countries understands and responds to a smile. When I was in Spain and Portugal and ran into people who did not speak English, I could always smile and create a connection with the other person.

When you are walking down the street, and see a stranger, a smile can cause them to feel better – about you, their world, or their day. A smile is universally understood. Use it openly and often. It makes people curious.

A smile can be the sunshine filling a room. And where there is smiling and laughter, there also is life. They say that people who smile a lot live longer than do the sour-faced. When we smile together, gratitude comes more easily, companionship thrives and all praise is sincere.

Smiling and laughter bring us joy that cannot be bought. Such joy is with us throughout each day. To hoard joy, to hide it away within us away from others will make us lonely misers. We cannot buy or trade for joy, but we can give or receive it as a gift. Smiling’s joy celebrates the moment we are living right now. It is a gift we must share, or it will wither and die. Shared, it grows and thrives and always returns to us when we need it most.

The ability to smile and laugh at ourselves has always been important. In old days, fools and jesters held an important place in the royal courts. Today we have clowns and comics who make us smile and laugh.

If we look closely at a clown’s face, we will often notice a bit of sadness around the eyes. Clowns are able to move easily from sad expressions to ones full of delight very easily. For all of us, laughter and tears come from the same deep well inside. And often, after a good cry, we find ourselves ready for smiling and laughter, easily and joyfully.

Laughter is a gift waiting for us on the other side of our sadness. Can you begin to laugh by smiling now?

There is an old Native American story I love about two wolves. The chief begins:

“A fight is going on inside us. It is a terrible fight. It is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other stands for laughter, joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. This same fight is going on inside everyone.”

Then one child asked the chief: “Which wolf will win?

And the chief simply replies: “The one you feed.”