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I make a conscious effort to smile at everyone, whenever possible. Not just friends and family… strangers in stores, people in front of me in line, whatever. This may seem odd. I’m not terribly outgoing, so part of it is just an attempt to put myself out there and force myself to be comfortable in my own skin, or act as if I am. (Practice is a good thing.) Also, I’ve found that smiling at others improves my mood, regardless of what’s going on. If I smile at someone and they smile in return, it makes me feel good. Of course, not everyone smiles back. Occasionally I get weird looks from strangers, who give me a “But do I know you” expression instead of a smile. Sometimes I even get scowled at. That’s okay; I’m not doing it solely to seek a positive response. The act of smiling is often its own reward.

The thing is, you can never be sure what’s going on in someone else’s head. It’s possible the person I smiled at never even saw me. Maybe their day has been so awful that they’re lost in their own misery. On the flip side, maybe a smile from me – a stranger – actually improved things, a little. Maybe instead of walking around thinking no one cares, or feeling isolated, they end up feeling better and more connected to people. Being smiled at feels good, regardless of who’s doing the smiling.

The other day I was on the receiving end of a smile so warm it could have peeled paint from the walls. I hadn’t been having a bad day up until that point. Actually, my day had been pretty decent. But the previous few weeks have been difficult, and I swear this smile was so radiant it melted away several of the bad yesterdays. Amazing. When it happened, I didn’t question it; I just soaked it all in, basking in the glow as if it were a sunny January day in Chicago. (If you’ve never witnessed that phenomenon, you should. People get so giddy they go a little nuts and start wandering around in shorts as if it were 75 instead of 40 degrees. Double-digit temperatures seem to confuse them). Anyway, the smile was wonderful, and I reveled in it. Later though, I questioned everything. I wondered if the person might have been looking at someone behind me, and pondered if I even “deserved” a smile that potent.

The things my mind can do… I have the unfortunate ability to take even the best moments and turn them on their heads, dissecting them until there’s just a pile of viscera and no good left to be found. This time, though, I stopped myself. Earlier that same day I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t believe everything you think,” which in retrospect seemed entirely perfect. I decided to see that as a message of sorts. Yes, the smile was meant for me, and I wasn’t going to allow my brain to screw it up. Yes, I deserved it. Why wouldn’t I? Why would I be any less deserving than the people I smile at?

I’m not sure what the moral of this particular post is, if any. I will continue to smile at people, whether I know them or not, and whether or not they smile back. It makes me feel good, and hopefully it makes others feel good as well. I will also continue to work on accepting gifts as they come to me, and hopefully one day I will stop questioning them.

Seriously, I need a t-shirt that reads “Work in Progress.”