An ordinary, extraordinary thing happened when I was out for a walk along the Yarra River in Melbourne. A family rode past on bikes. Mum and dad first, all business, legs pumping, stares fixed on the horizon. Then came their daughter, who was about 12. She looked so confident in who she was, just cruising along, taking in the world at her own pace.
That was pretty impressive in itself. Then she turned and looked at me—and gave me the most gorgeous, natural smile.
It changed my day. It could change the way I now approach each day.
Why? Because a 12-year-old smiling at a random reminded me that’s probably what I used to do. As kids, we have no feelings filter. Happy or sad, we make it clear how we’re feeling and we’re comfortable sharing that. Then somewhere along the way, that authenticity and willingness to engage with others for no reason other than you’re feeling good is drummed out of us.
Smiling Girl has raised a real question for me. Where does that inner confidence to just be who we are go? What are we doing in our society or with our belief systems as we grow up, that as adults it translates to us fiercely protecting how we feel and not genuinely engaging with others? To the point where we often show a blank face because that’s what everyone else reflects to us?
Where does it go? And why? Why have we stopped cultivating the exchange of smiles as a cheap and easy way to be human and make people feel awesome?
I can’t stop thinking about it. Why does everything have to be so serious? Why do we take ourselves so seriously? What would happen if we actually actively sought out more fun and were more generous in what we give others—and I’m not talking handing over firstborns, just positive facial expressions!
I did a podcast in early April with a Brianna Ansaldo, Head Honcho of Bamby media, who is really joyful and connected to her inner child. She loves to be silly and loves to ‘play’, especially with her kids. She also encourages her team to be, I want to say goofy and just have fun, and it gets great results. She hasn’t lost whatever it is that seems to drain out of most of us and it’s refreshing and inspirational.
And it’s rubbing off on me. A couple of mornings ago I was caught behind an elderly couple in our street who were on the curb waiting to get into their carer’s van. The lady started climbing in and she was so slow the carer was doing a sort of ‘sorry’ gesture to me. I knew I had a meeting to get to and would probably be a bit late but all I wanted to do was ensure they saw my smile, letting them know it was ok,
Smiling Girl has made me vow to find my inner child and understand again the power of a simple smile and not to be sooo serious. It’s a great way to make yourself feel better and to give someone else the gift of a stranger noticing them in a good way. Try it next time you walk towards someone in the street, in a shop or at work. A genuine smile. You’ll get a lot back.