I was never what you would call a “happy child.” Even as a baby my parents talked about how I would scream inconsolably for hours upon hours upon hours. I wouldn’t sleep during the day. When I started school I would often wake up physically sick to my stomach simply due to the stress involved. In first grade I regularly cried every day. Did I have a bad childhood? No! I was raised by two God-fearing parents and had two older brothers who loved me dearly. We took great vacations, went camping, had good clothes, always had food to eat, etc. I was never the victim of any kind of abuse. But I wasn’t happy. I was terrified of sleeping in my room even as I entered into middle school. I wouldn’t go outside by myself after dark. I was afraid to go to friends’ houses for sleepovers. Many people said I was “wise beyond my years” due to my understanding of the problems of the world from such a young age. But as I grew people began saying something else too. Many people started commenting about my smile. I wasn’t a beautiful child. I didn’t have the best clothes or the most out going personality. I cried much more than other kids my age, but by the time I was seven or eight, these tears were almost always shed in the privacy of my bedroom. When people saw me at school, in church, or even at the grocery store, what they saw was my smile.
Why did I smile? Was it genuine? Most of the time it was. Truthfully I had learned that my smile could do some amazing things. First, I learned a smile stopped a lot of questions. If I looked sad, people would ask, “What’s wrong?” Or “Are you okay?” And honestly I hated those questions because I didn’t know why. I just wasn’t happy. But if I would smile, the questions ended. Second, I learned a smile was contagious. If someone in my family was having a bad day, sometimes just giving a simple smile could change things. A grumpy cashier at the store’s outlook could even transform just by receiving a smile. But finally, the best thing my smile did wasn’t for other people. I learned that when I smiled, I FELT BETTER. By focusing on looking happy, I often BECAME happy myself. By about the age of 10, I had become so full of smiles when I was in public, multiple people had nick named me “Smiley.”
When I started working as a retail employee at the age of sixteen, I even added to this. I was asked “How are you?” at least a hundred times a day (because that’s just what you ask the cashier, right?). Instead of the traditional “Fine.” Or “Good.” I decided to show some enthusiasm. Even on the days when I had to drag myself out of the house and through school, I took those opportunities to remind me of just how lucky I was and I grew thankful for those opportunities. I would smile, make eye contact and say, “I am absolutely fantastic!” Or “Terrific! How are you?” I can’t tell you the number of times those people who approached the cash register looking frustrated, hurried, and often even upset would do a double take and then say, “You know, I’m doing pretty well myself!” Bringing a smile to someone often brought a more genuine smile to my face as well.
But as I went into college and more pressures of life began piling up, something began happening to my smile…