This piece was also featured as a nationally syndicated column with Gannett Media.
Going to the grocery store these days makes me feel like I’m one of the astronaut characters in the movie The Martian. Just this morning, my husband and I made our once-every-two-weeks early morning trip to the Fairway Market on Second Avenue and 30thStreet in New York City. Donning masks and rubber gloves, we left our apartment with two backpacks, a rolling cart, and several container bags, just as if we were preparing for an interplanetary mission.
Of course, everyone else who was out and about on their own Mars mission was wearing a mask too, but this morning, we noticed something different. While most people kept a fairly flat facial expression behind their mask as they passed, one young woman looked up and smiled. Instinctively, both my husband and I smiled back at her.
How do I know she smiled? Because she smized.
For those of you who are not fans of the television show America’s Next Top Model, “smize” is slang for “smiling with your eyes.” First coined by the host of the show, supermodel Tyra Banks, “smize” combines the word smile with the sound of the word eyes. In these days of COVID-19 and the new era of masks, what could be more important than to smize?
Smiling (or smizing, these days) can transform our entire outlook. Psychologists and scientists as far back as Charles Darwin have argued that emotions can be regulated by behavior. We usually think the opposite—that we smile when we are feeling happy—but science has shown that we can create happiness by the act of forming a smile.
For example, scientists have discovered that when a person smiles, it triggers physiological changes in the brain that cool the blood, which in turn controls our mood, which causes a feeling of happiness. Translation: we can change our inward emotion by changing our outward expression.
And that’s just the beginning. What we feel in our hearts manifests itself in our behavior, and how we act over time is what we become. Consistently reminding ourselves to smile throughout our daily lives may eventually change our hearts. And when our hearts change, the way we encounter the world changes. That is when we can truly begin to affect those around us.
I think of the famous lyrics by Louis Armstrong: “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” Armstrong was onto something, as neuroscience has shown that merely seeing a smile (or a frown) activates mirror neurons in the brain that mimic the emotion. Translation: When someone smiles at us, we smile back, and vice versa. And now, thanks to my empirical research on the way to the grocery store, we know that seeing a smile expressed through the eyes has the exact same effect.
This idea has caught on in a number of industries, including the hospitality business. For example, both Walt Disney World and the Ritz Carlton use what’s called the 10/5 Rule. When hotel employees are within ten feet of a guest, they must make eye contact and smile. When they get within five feet of the guest, they must say hello. The bottom line? Joy is contagious.
Here’s the moral of the story: Just because you are wearing a mask and feeling like you are on a Mars mission doesn’t mean you can’t feel and share joy. In fact, this is a time when we need joy more than ever!
Try it this week. Put on your mask and smize! As my dear friend Rabbi Bob Alper once said,“when we are called to our maker, we will each be held responsible for all the opportunities for joy that we ignored.”
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest, “Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year – Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!” Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.