by Wayne Geiger
My best friend, Jeff, and I, had put beach towels around our necks and used clothespins to securely hold them in place. Having just watched an episode of Superman, we were charged and ready. We were tired of watching the superhero and wanted to be the superhero.
I was somewhat naive at the young age of about seven, and mistakenly thought that the man of steel gained his ability to fly from his cape. I was wrong. With an energetic, “up, up, and away!”, I triumphantly leaped off the top of the bunk bed.
Unfortunately, although unaware of its presence, a strong force, I would later learn to identify as gravity, grabbed a hold of me, pulling pulled me down to earth. I sank like a rock and landed ungracefully and hard upon his shag carpet. Thankfully, nothing was broken. Outside of a severe case of rug burn, the worst thing that hurt was my pride.
I guess we’ve all dreamed of having a superpower.
I think it was about 2002. At the time, I was the Station Manager for KLJC. A fellow radio employee and I were attending a radio conference in a major city and arrived at the hotel to check in. I really don’t remember what the issue was, but something was wrong with our reservation.
We were both extremely tired as it had been a long day. He was extremely frustrated and his tone and body language only exacerbated the problem. I stepped in and apologized for the tense situation.
I gave the clerk a quick smile and called her by name. I knew her name because it was written on her name tag. I used non-threatening language and described how frustrated she must be (I noticed the long lines in the hotel and the frazzled look on her face).
I indicated that I was truly sorry that it had been a difficult day for her and we certainly did not want to add to her stress level. I also assured her that if anyone could resolve the issue, I knew it was her.
Her attitude immediately changed. and within a few moments the issue was resolved and we were on our way. He looked at me, mouth agape, and said, “You must have some kind of superpower to get people to do what you want.” I smiled and said, “it’s just called “Being a nice human being.”
I did not seek to manipulate. My goal was simply a win-win. We had an issue that needed to be resolved and we were in the right.
She was the gatekeeper, but also a human being who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. We met in the middle. I had no superpower, but I knew a few things about human behavior and simply tied my cape on.
I believe that all of us were given an incredible superpower that has the ability to change the world. This superpower will not cost you a thing, is not affected by kryptonite, and wearing a cape is optional. The superpower I’m referring to is--a smile.
Could it be that easy?
Research into smiling has produced some amazing results. Studies have shown that smiling can help us cope, make us feel good, and even increase our longevity.
In the Christmas movie, Elf, he has a big grin on his face and his boss asks him, “Why are you smiling like that?” Intensifying his smile and lifting his eyebrows, he says, “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”
To be honest, smiling is not really my favorite. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes work. I am introspective and love quiet moments. Most of the time in crowds, I prefer to listen or just think.
I was in a meeting the other night and a friend asked, “Are you mad at something?” I knew what they meant. They were saying, “You look like Grumpy Cat.” My response was my normal one. “No, I’m fine. I’m just thinking.”
Although a smile may not come naturally it can be extremely powerful. A smile is viewed around the world as a sign of friendliness--especially when giving a greeting. In fact, here is a common test. Which of these emoticons best displays a genuine happy smile? Is it :) or ^_^ ?
Most say the second one. It is most commonly used in Japan. Researchers tell us the second one is the best description because smiling has less to do with your mouth and more to do with your eyes. The emoticon almost makes you want to smile.
Here are 3 things you need to know about your new superpower:
1. Smiling can bring de-escalation:
For some reason, we’re more drawn to people with a warm smile than people who don’t have one. When people are not smiling, we often want to know, “what’s wrong.” We assume that when things are right people are smiling.
Smiling has also been shown to disarm a tense situation. When people smile, it sets us at ease and make us feel that we can trust that person. Similarly, when we smile, we have the power to be able to bring healing and calm into a tense situation.
2. Smiling is a stimulation
The great Louis Armstrong sang, “When you smilin', when you smilin, the whole world smiles with you. Yes when you laughin' oh when you laughin', the sun comes shinin through.” Just as yawning is contagious, so is smiling. Not only does someone else smiling make us want to smile, but if we smile--it has the ability to change our own mood.
Researchers say that once the smiling muscles in our face contract, there is a positive feedback loop that now goes back to the brain and reinforces our feeling of joy. Smiling triggers our brain to be happy. Just as happiness can cause us to smile, smiling can cause us to be happy.
One author noted, “Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match.” The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22).
3. Smiling in an invitation
A frown, growl, or scowl is a defense mechanism to warn others to, “Stay away, I haven’t had my coffee.” They are useful sometimes. On the other hand, a smile produces warmth and openness. It lets others know, ‘I’m approachable.”
True, sometimes we fake it. The true smile is called the duchenne smile. It is named after the scientist who discovered that people can often tell the difference between a fake and a real smile. A fake smile is with the mouth only. A real smile also involves the eye sockets and produces “crows feet” under the eyes.
But, oftentimes, a fake smile will grow into a genuine smile. For example, in a socially awkward moment, you might offer a “fake” smile to a stranger as a courtesy. Then, as you begin to converse, you realize you are enjoying the conversation and your smile becomes genuine.
Smiling is easy. It’s powerful, and it’s free. If you’re not a natural smiler, try it for a couple of days. When you meet someone or in a social situation, remind yourself to smile.
Unlike Superman, you may not be able to fly. However, a simple smile may be able to bring calm, joy, and an opportunity to meet a new friend. All of us, in some way, want to change the world.
Maybe a great place to begin is with a smile. Who knows, it might just become your new favorite.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.