I’m not sure exactly when this game started. I don’t even remember when I first noticed what I was doing. I just know it frequently lifts my spirits when I need a boost.
It sounds silly. It sounds like something a child might do. But it makes me happy — and I’ve realized it lets me bring a brief bit of joy to others along my way every day. And it’s super simple.
The game? I count how many times each day that I can get people to smile — when they clearly hadn’t felt like smiling beforehand.
Ridiculous? Maybe. Childlike? Absolutely. Life-changing? Maybe.
Dr. Jerome Motto was involved with attempts to curb suicide in the San Francisco Bay Area for years. One of his patients committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in 1963, but the retired physician told the New Yorker in 2003 that the suicide which affected him the most occurred in the 1970s. After a man jumped to his death, Motto learned something that left him chilled.
“I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner,” he said. “The guy was in his 30s, lived alone. Pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’”
Apparently, nobody smiled at him. He jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and died.
What if you could have been the person who smiled at him? What if you could have made him smile? Might you have saved his life?
We never know the drama that’s going on inside the heads of the people around us. We never know who’s miserable and needs a reason to smile, even if it’s just for a moment.
Today, I got three smiles from people who didn’t seem inclined to smile before I said something to them. Just three people. It took me only a few seconds of effort. But all three seemed briefly happy — and each experience gave me a brief feeling of euphoria
In Walmart this evening, I stopped to chat with the door greeter. She was having a terrible day and she told me how unhappy she was with a couple of things. I briefly commiserated with her and then I told her — almost as an afterthought — that she looks really great tonight wearing some red earrings that matched a bright red shirt underneath her Walmart vest.
She immediately brightened and a big smile came over her face.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I really needed that.”
She hugged me and I went on my way, but she was still grinning.
There are a million ways to make people smile. Sometimes it’s a compliment — if it’s truly genuine, of course. Other times, it’s sincerely listening to what they have to say. At other times it can be a silly joke. After awhile, it becomes a game.
I made a 3-year-old girl smile in Chick-fil-A tonight. She certainly wasn’t a suicide risk, but you might have thought her life was over as her mother led her to the restroom at one point. She was limping and her exasperated mom tried to get her to move along.
When they came out of the restroom, I smiled at the mother and she said, “She’s decided she can’t tee-tee because she has a broken leg.” And they went back to their table near the play area, but the little girl was still unhappy.
I was leaving a couple of minutes later, so I stopped at their table and asked the little girl if her broken leg had healed. She grinned a huge smile and started showing me where her leg had been “broken” a few minutes before. I told her she must heal really quickly and congratulated her on being better. Her mother seemed to appreciate someone taking the little girl seriously and she grinned at our exchange.
There was another woman in a different store, but you get the idea. In each case, the exchange took only a few seconds, but it made someone else happy — and it made me feel happier, too.
Try my game. I suspect you’ll enjoy it.
How many grumpy people can you get smiles from? You won’t always be successful. Some people seem to enjoy their misery so much — or else they’re just so deep in pain — that they won’t play along. But that’s OK. Just count how many times you get the unexpected smile. You might be surprised.
Sunsets make me happy. They make me smile. The more dramatic ones frequently cause others to smile, too. So here’s my blatant attempt to make you smile. Will it work?
I shot the picture above about five minutes after sunset tonight in Birmingham. It was gorgeous to experience and it has been a joy to share. Take a close look at it. See if the beauty I experienced will make you smile, too.
I sized a copy of this sunset picture for use as a desktop picture on a computer, so if you’d like to grab a copy of this — if it will make you smile — click here to download a 2560×1600-pixel version. It’s sized for the native resolution of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, but it should be able to resize for most screens.
And here’s Merlin guarding the windows of my office Thursday morning. My cats and my dog make me smile — and it makes me happy to share them with others. (They have their own Instagram account if you’d like to see more.)
There are plenty of reasons to smile. Beauty. Humor. Love. Good will. Gratitude. You can find plenty of reasons if you look for them.
Making others smile might not change your life. You might not even save anybody else’s life. But if you’ll make a few people smile today, you’ll make them just a little bit happier — and you might find it changing you just a little bit every day.