Smiling Lip Service

A sociologist conducted an experiment. One day he walked the streets of his large city and purposely smiled at everyone he met. He counted the smiles and in nearly every case his smile yielded one in return. Much harder to measure was the “happy effect” he personally felt after his experiment.

The next day, he didn’t smile at all when his eyes met others while walking along the street. No one smiled back at him either, and not surprisingly there was no happy effect afterwards. Realizing he controlled his smile and its potential to change his own demeanor, he reported that smiling was advantageous to one’s mental well being. 

While I enjoyed his research, it didn’t extend far enough—because there are different kinds of smiles.

The smiles shared with strangers on the street are what I call courtesy smiles. These are “random acts of kindness” smiles. Indeed, like the sociologist reports—they lend themselves to feeling better about humanity and our shared space.

We’ve all experienced heartfelt smiles. They are magnetic and often infectious, causing reciprocated smiles and happiness.

Then there are the plastic smiles. To our true friends, these are the dead-give-away smiles. 

Those who know us can quickly decipher the opaque smile and want to know “What’s wrong?” We need friends who can see through our fake smiles.

Frozen smiles are the worst. Typically, these ice-cold smiles are plastic smiles that have hardened. Frozen smiles come from hearts that need to be warmed with love.  Zach had one of those frozen smiles. He’d wear it to school everyday. Without close friends, no one knew the difference. 

But someone noticed—someone who recognized that same frozen smile they used to wear. It was exactly what Zach needed, someone to see his smile for what it was—an invitation to please get to know me. 

And that’s what happened. Zach’s story would have probably been far different had someone not decided to thaw out that frozen smile. 

So, it’s much more than merely smiling at others—it’s also deciding what kind of smile you see, and for those plastic or frozen smiles, using love to melt away the hardness. Can we change lives with a smile? Why not? It can be the beginning of what real lip service should be.

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