Going For Smiles Stories #17 — 23
I started Going For Smiles (and Happiness367 before it, in 2016, which you can read about here) so that handwritten smile cards could give everyone a chance to be kind to one another. These stories contribute to the goal of gathering 5,000 shared-smile stories so we can prove that little gestures can have a butterfly-effect impact.
Most of us have a general workday routine, which means we often coast on autopilot. But what if we started to treat each day like a unique experience? What if we looked up from our phone long enough to really see the people around us? We might have more experiences like the stories shared in this post, and we might find ourselves smiling a little more often. Each of these stories happened during the morning or evening commute.
Story #17: A mother’s exuberance & her son’s kindness
The mother-son duo appeared so happy and caring in the way they interacted with each other. The boy appeared to be around 5 or 6, and his mom’s exuberance and attentiveness easily made him smile. She carried two large Target bags over her left shoulder and, after they found seats on the ferry, she retrieved a healthy juice for her son to enjoy. I had noticed them once before, and both times I felt like their genuine interaction made it seem like I was watching a movie. But since this was real life and not just a movie, I decided to say hello and offer them a smile card.
I leaned over, with a smile card in hand, and said, “you both look so happy. I’m wondering if you would like this smile to match the ones you’re already wearing?”
“Sure!!” Exclaimed the mom, after a brief look, and her broadened smile made her son smile even more.
Her exuberance felt like a wave of positive energy coming over me, too!
“So, we just pass it along?!,” she asked with high-pitched excitement.
“Yep, as simple as that!” I responded, feeling relieved that she vocalized the goal so quickly; it’s not always that easy and people usually ask questions first!
I wished them a great day and leaned back into my seat, complete with the feeling that I could run a marathon from the positive energy and happiness that was just shared.
Right before I put my earbuds back in, I heard the young boy slowly say, “so… we’ll give it to someone to make them smile… and then they’ll give it to someone to make them smile too…”
“Exactly!” exclaimed his mom.
As I completed the rest of my commute home, the boy’s keen awareness and understanding of what this smile card meant stuck with me. I wondered how his mother’s genuine personality helped shape his young mind. I wondered if it was simply a factor of his age and innocence that he was easily able to grasp the message of kindness. I wondered how many children live in environments that encourage action through the message of what they should do (be kind and supportive) vs. what they shouldn’t do (anti-bullying, anti-hate).
I’m not sure of what the answers are, but dialog is the first step and this little boy showed that the message is simple to pick up! Congrats to that mom and her family for raising such an astute and kind hearted person.
Story #18: Connecting the dots
All five of us were standing evenly spaced in the elevator. It already felt like we had stopped at every floor, but even the newest addition rolled her eyes when we stopped for a sixth person. Not that we were all so excited to get to work but, rather, it’s rarely enjoyable to ride the local elevator that starts/stops every minute. Then I wondered… is there a way to bring kindness into this situation without tipping into annoyingly-peppy on a Monday morning? It’s delicate, but I thought I’d give it a try.
Step 1: Retrieve the cluster of smile stickers from my purse.
Step 2: Ask “would anyone like a sticker? It’ll make you smile”.
Step 3: Hope at least one person says yes, and don’t appear too excited when all of them (except one) say “sure”.
What came next, though, was wonderfully unexpected! The woman who was standing next to me on the elevator also ended up sitting next to me on the ferry. After a surprise smile and comment that was something like, “we meet again!”, we started chatting. We talked about the neighborhood, and how long we have lived there, then she asked if SMILE is my organization.
I said, “no, I work in finance. But this is something I enjoy doing on my own. I’ve noticed that people look for ways to be kind, and often underestimate how powerful something like a shared smile can be…” (Pause to reach into my purse and retrieve a smile card) “…I gave you all stickers, but I also hand-write quotes on index cards and give them out to people.”
Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “my husband found one of those! It was clipped to the fence by the ferry terminal, and we moved it to somewhere else in NYC.”
She paused and nodded while the puzzle pieces connected in both of our brains: she met the mystery person who left the card there weeks prior, and I met the people who moved the card and joined the smile chain!
After a minute, she continued, “we watched it for a day or two but then it wasn’t there anymore — we hoped someone else took it.”
As I always say, there are only 3 options: it was picked up, thrown away, or flown away. Interactions like these make me hopeful that it’s most often the first option.
What started as a simple smile sticker in an elevator turned into an exciting connection for both of us.
There are also many other initiatives that encourage kindness through human connection, like Kindsum and Hug’s & High-5’s! Kindness is collaborative, so I would definitely encourage you to look into both.
Story # 19: When an alarm doesn’t ring
We’ve all been in this situation at least once in our lives. If you haven’t, then you’re probably not old enough to need an alarm, an android, or supremely lucky. It happened to me three times before, and the fourth occasion happened just a couple of weeks ago: my alarm didn’t wake me.
I was 100% positive that I set the alarm the night before. But I’m also 100% positive that I didn’t consciously hear or feel any kind of noise. Moments like this leave me wishing there was a video camera taping my life so I could look back on it and get a clear answer. But I didn’t have any of those thoughts until much later, because when I finally did wake up 40 minutes later than usual, I was dazed and confused and unsure which dream level of Inception I might still be in.
In a frenzied rush, I hurried to get ready and leave for work. Fortunately, I usually give myself a large time buffer to get ready, so by the time I only partially put on makeup and superficially combed my hair, I was only 15 minutes late.
While on the ferry, I somehow looked presentable and social enough to strike up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. She described how difficult her commute had been because of record-setting traffic, and I told her about my alarm not waking me. We talked about the common routines that New Yorkers share despite our diversity, like trying to get to work on time or dealing with traffic, and also talked about the things that are nice to change up so as not to fall into a lazy rut.
Since we both were having difficult mornings, I thought a smile might help brighten our days a bit. I handed her a smile card and asked her to think of something happy.
Without skipping a beat, she said, “well, I’m not late for work!… and my family is healthy.” Touché, lady! We both laughed and it was fun how she turned a smile into a laugh. As we got to our destination, she looked at me and said, “keep smiling”. And we parted with a shared smile.
Story #20: Make Change Happen
Have you seen those click-bait articles titled, “Why You’re Groggy in the Morning”? It has a list of items, like “you don’t drink enough water” or “you don’t exercise.” Well, as a night owl, I’m here to say forget workouts at the crack of dawn; the true best way to get a morning energy rush is to share smiles with people.
It was a regular workday commute, but the difference was my openness to observe the world around me. As I sat down next to a happy looking couple, the woman’s bag caught my eye.
It read, “MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN”.
Readers of GoingForSmiles stories know by now that I’m extroverted enough to say hello to people, so it should be no surprise that I said, “Your bad is awesome!” She responded that she works for a non-profit, and it’s part of the company’s swag. After a few more comments exchanged, I asked, “would you like a smile to go along with your bag?” The woman was seated closer to me, so she extended her hand and they both started smiling as they read the card.
Even though we were already in conversation, I often feel the same reaction when I hand people a smile card. In that split second between when I finished my question and the person responds, I sometimes find myself unconsciously holding my breath. Sometimes people say, “no thanks”, but I always hold out hope that they’ll smile. This time, the couple’s response was even better than just a smile since she took out her phone and started to follow GoingForSmiles on Instagram, and said she’ll share it with her colleagues. They even posed for this picture!
The story doesn’t only end there. Amanda (real names have been changed) has messaged me a few times in the two months to say that an act or message of kindness made her think of me! It’s one of the greatest forms of flattery.
Then, just last week, I noticed Neel during my morning commute. But I wasn’t 100% sure that it was him until he walked over and said, “hey, you’re the smile girl, right?”
It is my wish for all of you who are reading this story, that you, too, are the source for people’s smiles 😊
Story #21: A man’s perspective
“Are you a teacher?” asked the tall, strong, scruffy bearded man.
A fresh batch of smile cards were scattered on the chair next to me and I was clipping smile stickers to them, which must have caught his attention.
“Nope…. I actually work in finance! But I hand-write these cards on my own to seed the world with smiles and so people can continue passing them along, too.”
He paused for a moment and it seemed like his smile grew as he started nodding his head.
“That is really cool…. really cool,” he said before starting to walk away with a smile.
I happily thanked him, and, before getting off the ferry, I handed him a card. He seemed surprised and thankful, and responded, “that’s awesome! We could all definitely use more smiles in the world.”
The recognition from this guy was especially rewarding since I feel like it’s a symbol of changing times. Men are often taught to hide their emotions, be strong and be practical. That’s why a common response that I received when #Happiness367 started in 2016, and later when GoingForSmiles launched, was that it won’t reach men. As the common theme goes, perception and reality often diverge.
This guy, the men who have smiled when I hand them a smile card, the multitude of male-authored Instagram posts to #Happiness367, and all the men who are encouraging real conversation, are proof that reality is more inclusive.
To all the men out there who are opening dialog around what it means to be “a man”, thank you.
Story #22: Friday!!
By the end of the workday on a Friday, some people feel like Fred Flintstone hustling home, while others shuffle out like an Eeyore.
On one Friday, I noticed an Eeyore during my commute home. He had a blank-stare-into-nowhere expression and was probably too drained to think of anything anyway. If I didn’t have a smile card, I don’t believe there’s anything that I could have said.
But since I did have a card, I fetched it out of my purse and said, “excuse me, sir. I noticed you’re wearing the difficult workday-look, and wonder if you’d like a smile to start your weekend?” This question seemed to return him to the present and he extended his hand to receive the card while saying, “ohh, well thank you…. My smile’s been worn by the years, but I do appreciate this. Thanks.” We talked for a few minutes more before parting. He seemed to be in better spirits, and I was happy to have been able to contribute to that change with a small gesture that possibly made the difference between a difficult end to the workweek and a positive start to the weekend.
Story #23: A positive influence
This story is courtesy of a friend. I shared a smile card with him, and he relayed this story to me about the person he handed the card to.
She was waiting in line to purchase a ticket from the ticket booth. I was standing behind her, also waiting, but in front of both of us was an elderly woman who was trying to pay with cash and coins… and she was taking her time. On a warm summer day, I wouldn’t have minded, but it was blustering and cold as we waited outside.
We both were watching the clock tick down to when the ferry was supposed to depart, and I started wondering if I should just offer to purchase the ticket for the elderly woman.
But the younger lady standing directly in front of me seemed patient, despite the bitter cold. I’m usually a good judge of personality, and I got the sense that she was the quieter and more sensitive type.
Her patience gave me the necessary motivation to be patient too, even though that meant that we both missed the ferry. Instead of brooding, we struck up conversation.
We talked about random things, like her Cole Haan sneakers, how the brand is marketing the new sneaker line with Equinox, workouts and earbuds.
I remembered that I still had the smile card with me, and I passed it to her. The kind energy she communicated helped me regain the patience necessary to not be an impatient jerk, and potentially embarrass the elderly woman.
People who inspire a little kindness really can be a positive influence, just simply with their presence, and help set the world in the right direction.
There are countless untold stories of kindness in the world. If you’d like to share yours, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you always find a reason to smile!