I recently read an article that suggested a pretty obvious tactic to allow a person to encounter more joy in life: engage in extroverted engagement with the people you meet in the chance encounters of routine living. You know, smile at the green grocer, or help an old lady across the street, that sort of thing.
The expert (at least I assume he was such …) cited research to suggest that people experience massive mood “upswings” when they take time to simply engage in pleasant (dare I say, simply polite?) exchange with others.
How very American to make something that’s really about others to be all about self …
But the author discussed how making the choice to be happy and to smile, speak a kind word (not just brush past the Cub scout selling entertainment books in the strip mall parking lot, but actually stop and say hello and ask him about his troop) makes a difference for you. And, as we all know, certainly for the other.
In a keynote address I recently heard, Thom Schultz discussed the Gospel truth that the only thing that really moves people, breaks down barriers, and heals all hurts is unconditional love.
Now, do I love the green grocer, the old lady at the curb, the cub scout?
I guess I should, eh? Love my neighbor and all that … but I am telling you, taking the time to do this changes people. It changes you! It leaves you with this sort of weightless happiness in your chest, and the sense that the world is perhaps not as awful as some would have us worry.
What makes me sad in this, is that lately – the encouragement to do good to others, love my neighbor, and live as a Good Samaritan has come largely from secular sources. Unfortunately, right now (particularly in the LCMS) there seems to be a predominance of sneery, sarcastic, jaded attitude that is sort of tiring me out!
While I love the new U.S. Cellular ad, for example, it makes me sad that the world is being uplifted with the message of “We believe” in … what? CELL phone coverage? Really? Mobile phone coverage? That is the force that changes the world?
The Christian church has much to say about the "let’s all be nice and feel good about ourselves" mantra. Again, it’s so American to make something that is actually about the other, and more than that about our God, to become all about the “me.” The truth is, there is something in a smile. There is something in the smile of a Christian. Something in the kind word. The helpful tip. The welcoming attitude. The unexpected gentleness. And it’s a great deal more lasting than “more bars in more places." (I'm mixing my brands, but you get the gist.)
So: if you haven’t been particularly thoughtful to a stranger, if extroverted exuberance is just “not your style”, if you feel more caustic than called – take up the challenge to try out a different tactic this week.
Because there is Something in a smile that can change the world – and beautifully, it’s absolutely not about us!