Friday, May 30, 2014

Smiles and Ice Cream and Lollipops (Oh My!)

You know how there are certain people in the world who always seem to know, instinctively, when you need a little boost, a nudge of positivity, and then they also know exactly what to say to brighten your day? They’re amazing human beings who help us recognize light and joy in the world. They make us all believe in the good in humanity, even when we’re struggling to see the good in ourselves. I have this friend, Sunny, who epitomizes this group of individuals. She is this, personified.

I am not one of those people. Not by my nature, at least. But I’m trying to change that.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how on this one particular day that I was flying home from Dallas, the TSA agents at Love Field clearly were on a mission to make people smile.  I talked about the significant impact that the simple act of making someone smile has on both the person who is encouraging the smile and the person who ends up smiling.

Today, a friend of mine sent me and a few other people the link to this Tedx presentation, below, from 2010. The broad theme of the presentation is “everyday leadership,” and the title is “Leading with Lollipops.” But it’s about more than leadership. The talk is tied together by this notion of the power we all have to make a positive impact on the people around us, how we don’t have to have a certain title or status or special experience to make a powerful, positive difference for someone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to take these kinds of lessons to heart. I’ve been thinking a lot about those little things that have happened to me throughout my own lifetime, the compliments and kindnesses I’ve received from acquaintances and strangers that they likely forgot minutes after they occurred but that I still recall with deep appreciation days, weeks, and sometimes decades later.

  • The janitor at the highway fast food joint who, back in 1989, yelled happily to my best friend and me as we left, “Bye, Beautiful!”
  • The woman in the grocery store check-out line with me, back when I first moved to my current locale 18 years ago, who gushed about the flowers I was buying for my mother.
  • The random strangers I’ve encountered over the last several months who have stopped me – in an elevator, on the sidewalk, in the mall – to compliment my hairstyle.
  • The colleague who went out of his way countless times to say the words, “I appreciate you, very much.”
  • And, of course, the TSA agent who called me youngster a couple of months ago!

I could go on and on about the light-hearted comments and heart-felt kind words that continue to sit with me and that have made a difference in my life and my view of the world.  How can you see the world and the people in it as anything but generally good, if not brilliantly beautiful, if a stranger can turn an average moment into a small miracle by the simple act of noticing you – you who at any other moment in time are a stranger to him or her but who in that moment are the center of his or her attention – and expending the energy to let you know that you were noticed? That, at the very base of it all, you made a happy imprint on their existence, however fleeting, and they wanted to be sure you knew it?

As for me, finding ways to bring a momentary spark of joy to random strangers is not part of my nature. I don’t have that internal, intuitive drive.  Heck, if I just follow my instincts, I’m lucky if I remember to compliment or even appropriately express gratitude to those nearest and dearest to me.  It’s not that I don’t like to pay compliments or don’t see the value in doing this. Quite the opposite. But I don’t have that instinct.

The fact is, though, that I know how those compliments and comments make me feel, and I love the feeling I get when I know I’ve done the same for someone else. 

Therefore, my mission lately – and yes, I’ve chosen to accept it – is to try to make a positive impact on one person (as often as possible, a stranger), to give them a reason to smile, however minor or brief, every day. It’s a dinky goal, I know, but at the end of a year, that would equate to 365 smiles. After 10 years, 3,652 smiles (or 3,653, depending on where leap year falls within that 10-year span… yes, I’m a nerd and had to be that specific). Even if this made a more lasting impact on only a small percentage of these individuals, then that's still a good additional amount of positive energy added into the Universe. And boy, we could use all the positive energy we can get in this day and age.

I’m not quite up to managing to do this 100% of the time, but I’m making the effort, and it’s starting to come a little more naturally now. I'm even trying it more at home. I mean, if you're a person of the female persuasion, you must know the positive impact I had on my daughter's day just by taking a moment to teach her the joy of sharing ice cream straight out of the carton.

Mmmm... chocolate. You know you want some, too.
This – the mission, not the ice cream sharing – doesn’t take a lot of energy. You should give it a try. Approach a stranger – in a non-threatening, non-stalkerish way, please – and pay them a brief compliment. And then walk away and let them go about their day; this isn’t an effort to find friends or dates, for heavens sake. Sheesh. If you’re a little shy like me, the biggest hurdle is overcoming your worry that the stranger might not appreciate your presence or invasiveness. If that’s the case, so be it. Smile yourself, move one, and be proud you made the effort.

Their lost smile is, well, their loss.

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