Friday, 1 March 2013

Smile, darn ya, smile!

Who wouldn't smile back at this face?
The other day, after much pleading, my son got to ride his run bike to pick up his sister from school. It proved to be a triumphant trip for many reasons. He's really started getting the knack for balance and steering, and is gaining speed each trip. What I was most proud of, though, was a brief moment of civility he showed to another cyclist. While riding on the bike path, he called out "Hi!" to an oncoming rider. I think he must have confused the man, because at first he didn't seem to know what to do, and then at the very last minute, he waved at my son. While getting my son pedalling on his own is something I look very much forward to, at that moment I was quite proud of my little guy, who was so eager to share his joy with a fellow bike rider. So I wonder, if a four-year-old can do it, why can't we all?

All too often, as I walk, ride or transit through the city, I experience a strange level of grumpiness and avoidance. People on bikes ride with their heads down, grimacing even when the sun is shining, pedestrians looking straight ahead, ignoring passers by, and fellow passengers on public transit working very hard to avoid eye contact. It seems quite sad to me, that many people are so averse to even sharing a quick smile during their travels, to the point that a child saying hello can throw a person off.

It's no secret if you read this blog that I love riding my bike, and that I want to share this passion and encourage others to discover their joy for riding a bike, too! Recently, I decided to start taking drastic actions to share my sentiment; I started trying to smile at every person I pass, be it on bike, foot or public transit, even in the pouring rain, all too common in my city. I figure that sharing my happiness and showing a bit of camaraderie to my fellow humans might just be a bright spot in their day. And who knows, they might go on to share this bright spot with someone else they pass in their travels.

"But, Melissa," you may say, "sometimes I just don't feel like smiling". Fair enough, but before you completely negate this idea, consider, for a moment, the health benefits of smiling. Aside from the obvious fact that smiling makes a person look more attractive than when they are grimacing, the act of smiling has be shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Smiling tells your brain that you're happy, even if you don't feel it at that moment. Your brain then releases "feel-good" endorphins, thus calming your heart, relieving anxiety and relaxing your digestive system. So whether you feel like it or not, smiling is good for your health!

As an example, just yesterday, as I walked to pick up my son from preschool in the dreary, Vancouver rain, a complete stranger smiled broadly at me as we passed. I was amazed at how good that made me feel, and I gave her a big smile right back. It was such a small, civilized act of kindness, but it had such a powerful effect on my mood for the rest of the day.

So, in your travels for the rest of this day and throughout the weekend, smile at the people you pass, and even say "hello" if you're so inclined. You may just brighten up what may have been a bad day for them, and, to me, that seems like the best way to improve the quality of your own day! As the song goes:

Smile, darn ya, smile
You know this whole world is a great world after all
Smile, darn ya, smile
And right away watch lady luck pay you a call
Things are never black as they are painted
Time for you and joy to get acquainted
So make your life worthwhile
Come on and smile, darn ya, smile!

(Lyrics: Jack Meskill, Charles O'Flynn, Max Rich)

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