From time to time, I use the Calm app to help me get grounded and work on being aware of my own reaction to the world and all that is in it. Last year, I listened to two sessions that struck a chord with me and set something in train in my own life. The first was about gratitude and the importance of saying thank you to others for small things that make a difference in your life. The second was about a study that had been done measuring patient outcomes in a hospital when the staff – doctors, nurses, and others – were encouraged to smile at one another in the corridors as they went about their business. That was all. No additional training or improvements in technical skills. It turned out that, not only were the staff generally happier, patient outcomes improved dramatically. Simply smiling at those you pass by each day creates a lift in the mood of the person on the receiving end, making it more likely she or he will smile at the next person they pass, creating a cascade of good feeling in the building. Try it: few people can resist cracking at least a hint of a smile when someone genuinely smiles in their direction. Apparently there’s some complex reason concerning the fact that human beings are social by nature and necessity and the fact that smiling helps to send friendly, we’re-in-the-same-tribe messages without the need for speech.
I found this research both inspirational and incredibly saddening. You see, when you can’t make out the features on a person’s face, you can’t see them smile. Instead, I have learned to focus on the expression in a person’s voice. Perhaps there is no coincidence in the fact the English language uses the same word – expression – for the look on a person’s face and the feeling conveyed by the way they use their voice.
As well as cultivating a habit of smiling at others, I decided to combine this knowledge with another healthy habit I picked up from Calm and made it part of my burgeoning gratitude practice. The two converged in this email to a co-worker:
“One of the things you miss most after losing your sight is not being able to see the smiles on other people’s faces. Every morning when you say hello to me, I hear the smile in your voice. Thank you.”
She responded almost immediately thanking me for my email and then came to my desk to offer me the first hug of our friendship. I have no doubt that she passed on the smile to others that day, and that they did likewise whether they thought about it or not. Maybe she even told the story to family or friends, who maybe even cracked a contagious smile of their own.
I am humbled by both the smallness and the magnitude of my part in that chain of goodwill. Who knows, maybe it even reached a medical professional who saved someone’s life.