FROM THE STOOL

PRACTICE SMILING

People seem to be smiling less. This is not a post-9/11 phenomenon but a trend which has been developing for decades. Sales associates are rarely friendly even though most people prefer to buy things from someone with a smile on their face.

Hotel clerks, telephone operators, police officers, receptionists, bus drivers, flight attendants, bankers, insurance agents, barbers, personal trainers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and even politicians are more likely to frown, appear frustrated and irritable, to create uneasiness than to project warmth and good humor. A call for customer service more often provokes a snarl than provides a solution.

Perhaps the escalating pressures associated with living in an overcharged, high-tech world, the stress of competing for time and attention at home or in the office has cause us to lose our sense of humor. It is difficult to smile in bumper to bumper traffic with a cell phone in one hand and morning coffee in the other. Getting to and through an airport is often so difficult that it offsets the benefits associated with the vacation destination on the other end. It takes talent to smile while being wanded in public.

Most people don't seem happy in their work or on the golf course or at the craps table for that matter. A smile is the best first impression possible not a grin, a leer, or a smirk but a real eye sparkling, I couldn't be happier to see you smile. Smiling makes you feel better. It's easier to like someone who smiles easily and often.

The ability to smile spontaneously without effort requires practice. Fashion models, actors and actresses work out in front of the mirror firming up their abs, pecs, gluts, triceps and biceps. It's likely that Olympic quality smilers like Tom Cruise and Bette Midler regularly exercise their smiling muscles which create much of their public persona.

As people appear to be smiling less, unable to make the effort to even appear to be happy, regular practice might well provide significant competitive advantage for the young person attempting to establish a career. While a dazzling smile won't make up for incompetence, sloth, body order or dishonesty, on a level playing field the player with the best smile wins. In affairs of the heart, only flowers and diamonds work better. While there's an absolute limit on the number of diamonds mere mortals can purchase, we can smile for as long as our hearts keep beating.
Honey always gets more flies than a swatter. What more effective technique for persuasion either selling a customer your product or service, convincing your child to study harder, or your wife to come to bed? As we are more often confronted by the dour, uncooperative, angry and frustrated, the ability to smile often and earnestly is the ability to disarm, to control, to prevail.

Our kids are encouraged to master the martial arts, karate, Tae Kwan Do, Kung Fu to develop confidence and inner peace by developing the skills of self-defense. For many, this disciplined exercise makes a lot of sense. For most, however, a smile will win more real world battles than all the kicks and chops combined. Smiles are tension easers for both the smiler and the one smiled upon. Tension and stress characterize our 21st century society. Competition is fierce. Only the most productive institutions survive.

Cosmetic surgery notwithstanding, we can do nothing about our height, our IQ or the size of our ears. We can, however, easily learn to smile and create a weapon which requires no maintenance and never wears out. If everyone who exercises added smiling to their routine and reactivated their sense of humor, it would profoundly affect the quality of our lives. Something simple to think about.