The Smile Project
Smile! It sounds simple, but when I think about my day and my to do list, smiling is the last thing on my mind. My face acts as a signal for my kids; it tells them how to proceed. And don’t smiles change the way we feel? They give us hope and make those around us smile too.
A few weeks ago, I tried something at home. Smiling. I don’t mean that I never smile, but I consciously tried to smile instead of any other face I might absentmindedly make. My kids often say that when I’m writing, I look like I’m in pain. Maybe that explains something that’s always puzzled me...
Before COVID, I used to write at the Barnes and Noble Cafe once a week while my youngest was at preschool. I came in every week and ordered the exact same thing -grande Tower of London tea (which happens to be one of the tastiest teas in the world). Every week, I had my book bag with all my writing stuff and I would order this tea. And every week, the barista looked at me like it was the first time we’d ever met. I yearned for her her wink at me and say, “The usual right?” and begin making my tea. But it never happened. Other people would come in and she’d say things like, “Do you want your quiche heated?” or “How is you mother? Doing any better?” Then she’d look at me and say, “Do you have a Barnes and Noble membership card?” I’m thinking, “You have to know I do. We do this charade every single week. You may not have it memorized, but surely you know I have one right?” But when I think of the face I make when I write, maybe she was just scared of me. She was thinking, “I’m keeping my distance from that one. She obviously has issues or she wouldn’t look so pained when she drinks…what is it she always drinks? Oh who knows.”
Maybe it’s my concentration face that’s kept me from a lasting relationship with that particular barista. And maybe the faces I make affect others too. In my week of smiles, I learned that my face absolutely makes a difference. Just being aware of my face changed my mood. When I'm looking grumpy, I start to tense up and feel grumpy. I ball up my fists. It doesn’t take long for something annoying to happen and since I’m already feeling grumpy, I snap at someone or I get impatient. But if I’m smiling, it just takes longer for that to happen. I makes me think of one of my favorite verses:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” -James 1:19
My smile acts as a buffer. It keeps me from jumping in with advice or an argument and it slows down my anger.
In my week of smiles, I noticed that my kids shared more with me. My teenage daughter comes home from school first, so we have some time together before things get crazy. Often, I’m working on something or running an errand, but during my week of smiling, I was there with a smile ready to greet her. Her whole demeanor softened and she shared about her day -complete with what people said and how she reacted. Nothing earth shattering, but just a detailed report of her day. I truly believe my smile and intentionally looking at her when she came home made all the difference. Smiles are welcoming. They say, “Stay awhile. I’m here for you.”
In contrast, the following week, I totally broke from the smile project. It was one of those weeks I put on my calendar and immediately started to dread. Everything was happening that week and I knew I’d have to manage each day by the minute to fit everything in. One thing I didn’t fit in was smiling. If you were to take snapshots of my face throughout the week, you’d see frustration, concentration, anger, and exasperation, but there was not a smile in sight.
Honestly, it was kind of a terrible week. We were busy, but we were busy with fun things and I could have enjoyed it more. Instead I was in a sour mood. Quick to speak and quick to get angry. I’m sure behind my back my kids said things like, “Steer clear of Mom. She’s in a mood.”
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A Cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bone.”
It reminds me that my mood greatly affects the temperature of my household. When I’m cheerful, there’s laughter and fun, music and dancing. When I’m a grouch, everyone’s a grouch. It’s a great responsibility, but it’s awesome that I still have that power. At this stage, my smile can still make my kids smile and I never want to take that for granted.
In a world of mask-wearing, we’re all a little starved for smiles. I think about the fact that my kids have only seen their teachers smile on a screen because in person, their faces are covered. Never was there a time when they need a warm smile more.
I’d like to make my smile project the norm instead of something I did once for science. When I did it, I assumed my kids would be like, “What’s wrong with you?” but they didn’t. They just let down their guard and joined in. They weren’t defensive or combative. They smiled back and everything was better. I want to be good medicine in my home, not someone who dries up bones. And the secret is a cheerful heart.