One of the first things people comment on after getting to know me is that the first impression they got of me was never positive.
My best friend shared that when she first saw me, twelve years ago, she thought I was a pompous Miss Know-it-all. When I entered IIUM, I made a grand total of zero non-Singaporean friends for the first few months. During a camp I volunteered at last weekend, other volunteers expressed their surprise when they realized, on the second night, that I was actually a funny person.
“You’re always looking so serious and frowning. Maybe you should smile more!”
Following the comment, I started studying the facial expressions and interactions of the other volunteers with one another, as well as my interactions with them.
Generally, I realized that the volunteers who smiled and laughed most are the ones who people gravitate to, while people like me, who smiled much lesser, tend to be left alone. The findings were not a surprise considering the fact that many studies have shown that smiling makes a person look more attractive and in turn, causes others to be attracted to them.
It dawned on me then that the problem I had all along was not that Allah swt had given me a serious-looking face, or that others were judging me. The reason why people get turned off by me based on first impressions was because I was not smiling.
Put simply, it was my own actions (or inaction, in this case) that barricaded others from getting to know me!
Hence, I thought to myself, if that was the problem, there could only be one solution:
I have to learn to smile. All the time.
To learn how to do this, I turned to my friend N who has always been described by family, friends and strangers alike as “smiling”, “cheerful” and “happy”. During the camp, people were always around her, and I remember thinking how happy they all seem despite the stressful situation we were in.
When I was chatting with another friend, I sent her a photo of N, and the reply I got was “Hahaha always happy, my Babels!” (Babels is N’s nickname, derived from the below photo).
N’s reply to my question was simple,
“Try to be consciously smiling at all times. You may not feel like smiling, but sometimes something within has to start from the outside.
It’s like when you pray; some people say that if you’re not sincere in praying, there is no point in praying. However, sincerity will come in time as you push yourself to pray and find sincerity in praying.
So just try to smile!
Smile at the cat, smile at the flower, smile when you look at the sky. Smile at the little girl, smile at the little boy, smile at the bus driver when you board the bus, smile at the lady sitting beside you in the bus. When you’re at the cashier, smile and say thank you.
Just find the opportunity to smile (but not at some random guy)!”
Just imagining all the smiles I will have on my face and the smiles people were going to give me is already making me happy. In fact, I bet even you are smiling just reading N’s reply!
The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said that “Your smile for your brother is charity”, and nothing can be further from the truth.
When we smile, the act tricks our body into feeling good, relieves stress, lowers our blood pressure, makes us look successful and helps us to stay positive. Additionally, because smiling is contagious, other people around us will begin to smile and they, in turn, will get the same positive effects that we are getting!
I recall watching a viral video of a personnel in Singapore’s Metro system who spends each morning smiling and greeting every person she sees on the train platform. Everyone in the social media sphere commended the personnel, and expressed how happy they always feel when they meet her in the morning.
Imagine if the thousands of people who commented actually started following the footsteps of that personnel, and started smiling at others! Imagine what an awesome morning it would be, if everyone in the morning peak-hour train start smiling and greeting one another!
James Altucher, author of the best selling book “Choose Yourself”, claimed that he singlehandedly saved Wall Street during the economic downturn when he stood on the streets every morning handing out smiles and chocolates to depressed bankers and analysts. He said that, in a split second, their eyes shone, and he could see a difference in their moods and in their steps.
Of course, to go from not smiling to handing out chocolates on the streets is a big jump to take. To me, smiling is a habit that has to be inculcated over time. To leap from A to Z would eventually lead to stress and fatigue.
So today I will take the first step to smiling. As per N’s advice, every time I make du’a upon stepping out of the house, I will tell myself to smile before moving forward. I will continue smiling as I go down the stairs and appreciate the view of the blue sky and the green trees. I will smile at my neighbor walking her dog. I will even smile at the dog!
I will remind myself to consciously smile all the time.
Perhaps one day, I will not have to clarify what kind of a person I am beneath all my hardness. Perhaps one day, people will know it just from my smile.