The first Monday of the New Year. I had a friend visiting whom I promised to drop off at the airport before going to work. We got up on time, got ready, loaded the car, then nothing. The car wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. Six-thirty in the morning, my stress was sky-high. A couple of phone calls later, a taxi was on its way to pick up my friend, AAA was on its way to jumpstart my car, and I was remembering to breathe.
“Smile,” my friend said as she cheerfully got in the cab. “Smile as much as you can today.”
The advice seemed strange but since my friend is wise, I took it to heart.
I smiled when the man arrived to jump my car. In fact, I made it a point to chat pleasantly and offered him coffee. He declined, but he couldn’t have been nicer. He advised me to stop at a gas station a couple miles away to get the battery tested. I pulled in noticing that the station wasn’t open yet. But someone was inside so I knocked on the door, grinning foolishly. The man who answered said the station wouldn’t open until 8:00. I felt a rush of anxiety as getting to work on time was not going to happen, but I smiled and said okay. He smiled back and told me to leave the car there and go to a cafe on the next block to wait. He promised to have the mechanic test my battery the minute he arrived, and advised me to order a cappuccino and relax. As I walked to the cafe I called work to say that I’d be late. I smiled as I left the message at the front desk.
It was surprisingly peaceful in the cafe, and I spent the unexpected half hour preparing for my day’s classes. At 8:20 I got the call that my car was ready. It was a beautiful San Francisco morning- clear blue sky, gentle wind. I enjoyed my walk to the station, thanked the man profusely for taking such good care of me, we smiled at each other like old friends, and I drove to work feeling peaceful and centered.
Walking in to my classroom nearly an hour late, my students were eager to know what had happened. I told them the story of my morning, and one girl asked why I was smiling if my car wouldn’t start and I was late for school. I told her of my friend’s advice.
I probably smiled more that day than I had in weeks. It required a conscious effort at first, but seemed to get easier as the day wore on.
It was a wonderful day.
My students brought it up often in the months that followed. “Remember the day your friend told you to smile?” they’d ask. I nodded, and they told me of their own experiments, grinning from ear to ear as they talked.
How easy it is to underestimate the power of a smile.