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Adventures in Smiling

Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard - April 16, 2010

Getting people to smile on demand is a bit tricky. Attempts to get my sizeable family bathed, dressed, and looking pleasant for a picture is like medieval torture. Just saying the words “family portrait” makes me break out in a cold sweat.

When my unenthusiastic family is finally lined up for this mother-initiated activity, I feel great compassion for our frazzled photographer.

"Pull that finger out of your nose," the photographer says. "Would the teenager on the back row take off the sunglasses? Now on the count of three, everybody look at me and say 'pickles.' One, two, three--pickles!"

Why do we want to see ourselves smiling in pictures? Why not just snap a realistic photo of family members milling around showing their true mood at the moment? Because we all look and feel better when we smile.

While insisting others smile can be a cause of great frustration, getting ourselves to smile will always bring us joy.

I remember a time when I was worried about one of my teenage sons. I prayed long and hard asking God to teach me how to love my son. The impression I received was simple: smile. This answer perplexed me. Still, I gave it a try. I began smiling at my son more often. I made an effort to catch his eye and smile at him during breakfast and supper. I noticed myself appreciating him more and becoming keenly aware of his courage in the face of adolescence. I wasn't sure at the time if he noticed, or if it meant anything to him--teenage boys aren't famous for expressing tender emotions. Some time later I received a letter from this son, who had become an adult:

"Dear Mom, thank you for smiling at me. When I was making my most difficult decisions, I would see your face in my mind, smiling," he wrote. "I knew you loved me, and it made all the difference."

Smiling is also a great way to meet new people. Once I was sitting in the Marriott Center at BYU during a Women's Conference. I was one of the speakers that day, but none of my family or friends could make it to listen to my talk. I was feeling sad and alone, even though there were thousands of women all around me. At that very moment, the woman sitting next to me turned and smiled.

It felt like she'd tossed me a ball of sunshine. Instantly, I no longer felt alone or sad. I had the impression that if this woman and I knew each other, we would be friends. It occurred to me that I was surrounded by family and friends--I just hadn't met or smiled at them yet.

We unlock our personal power for good when we offer the gift of a genuine and loving smile. Turning up the corners of our mouths helps us spread sunshine everywhere we go. So on those days when we feel inferior, worried, diminished, sad, or lonely, we need to get out there and start smiling. I've learned my day usually goes the same way as the corners of my mouth.

--- Adapted from 15 Secrets to a Happy Home, by Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard; available at Deseret Book.

© Deseret Book, 2007. Photo by William Stadler/sxc.hu.