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People Almost Met: Ray at the Supermarket—The Importance of Smiles

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are favorite topics for Ms. Giordano, a writer and public speaker.

A Ray of Sunshine Brightens My Day.

This story is one of a series about people whom I have almost met. The stories are about chance encounters with someone that lasts only a brief minute or two, but makes an indelible impression. It’s about encounters that in a small way change my life.

The encounter is too brief for an exchange of names. We may speak or touch, but we haven’t really met—hence the title, “People Almost Met.”

This story is about an elderly gentleman I "almost met" one day at the supermarket. I never learned his name, so I’m just going to call him Ray because he was like a ray of sunshine to me. Ray made me smile.


I Go to My Local Supermarket to Shop.

I looked nice that Sunday when I stopped at the supermarket after church.

A lot of people dress casually for church these days, but I like to dress up. I’m in my 60’s, so perhaps I’m just old-fashioned that way. Also, I work from home, so just getting out of the house feels like a special occasion.

I often stop off at the supermarket on Sunday, around noon, because I go there on my way home from church. I always go to the supermarket on my way home from someplace else--it saves time, car mileage, and gas.

On that day, I wore a white cotton skirt imprinted with flowers with a lace design around the hem. I topped the skirt with an emerald green cotton-knit tank top. It was a perfect outfit for a bright summer day.

I was having a good hair day that day. My naturally-curly hair, once brunette, but now liberally sprinkled with silver, framed my face with soft ringlets. I had applied my makeup with a light touch—a bit of mascara, a dusting of pinkish blush, and a hint of rose-colored lip color.

I Stop to Check Prices.

I took my grocery cart from the front of the store and made my way up and down the aisles.

I checked out every aisle to see what was new and what the “specials” and “bogos” (buy-on-get-one-free) were for the week. I pushed my cart up and down the aisles, selecting the items that I wanted to buy and placing them in my cart.

When I got to the grains and dried beans section, I paused and studied the items intently. There were so many types and brands and sizes.

I was trying to decide which ones to buy, but I was also trying to decide which ones I would actually use. I’m trying to eat more healthily and do more cooking from scratch, but the siren song of convenience foods so often entices me away from my good intentions.

A Motorized Shopping Cart Stops at My Side.

Someone in a motorized shopping cart pulled up alongside of me and stopped. I turned towards the cart and saw that an elderly man—the man I will call Ray—was driving the cart. He sat very erect in the motorized cart.

Ray was very thin, even gaunt looking. He had a weathered face, dotted with brown age spots.

He had a face that immediately suggests kindness and goodness, although it is hard to say just why he gave that impression. I think that it was something in the set of his eyes and mouth— a crinkling around the eyes and a slight upturn to the lips as if he was suppressing a smile.

He was nicely dressed in a sport shirt and khaki pants. Perhaps he had dressed up because just getting out of the house felt like a special occasion to him too.

I thought he needed help reaching an item on the upper shelf. I’m tall so people quite frequently ask me to get something from the upper shelves for them. Usually, it is not a man, but a short woman, making the request.

I turned towards him, but before I could ask him if I could help him, Ray spoke to me.

There Are Smiles in the Aisles.

He said, “A beautiful woman should always smile.” Then he pushed the button on his cart, and sped off around the corner before I could answer.

Of course, as soon as he said that, a big smile broke out on my face. What woman doesn’t like a man to call her beautiful, especially if she is of “a certain age”?

Even though I shop at that supermarket all the time, and I'm quite often there on Sunday at noon, I have never seen Ray again.

I still smile every time I think of Ray, the elderly gentleman in the supermarket that I almost met.

Why Do People Smile?

Smiling may be an innate facial expression. Babies begin to smile around the age of 6 to 8 weeks.

Charles Darwin observed that animals bare their teeth as a warning to other animals to stay away. He suggests that humans adapted this facial expression, but turned it into a smile, to use as a greeting.

The meaning of a smile is exactly the opposite of the meaning of the bared teeth—it says, “I’m not a threat to you. I am happy to see you.”

People from every culture smile. The art shown below shows smiling faces as depicted by many different cultures.

Are There Different Kinds of Smiles?

A smile does not always depict happiness.

Humans can control their facial expressions to communicate. A smile is sometimes used to cover-up what we are really feeling, like anxiety, or anger, or contempt. People are pretty good at reading the meaning in smiles.

A fake smile (called a social smile) differs from a real smile, which is often referred to as the Duchenne smile, after Guillaume-Benjamin Duchene, a pioneer in scientific study of smiles.

  • With a social smile, only the muscles around the lip are activated.
  • With a Duchenne smile, a smile that derives from happiness, the muscles around the eyes are also activated. There is a crinkling around the eyes that is not there when someone “pastes a smile on their face.” Notice the crinkles around the eyes on the top photo below. and compare it to the photo beneath it.

A Real Smile

The "Duchenne" smile or genuine smile.

The "Duchenne" smile or genuine smile.

A Fake Smile

The social smile or fake smile.

The social smile or fake smile.

Turn That Frown Upside Down.

There is a bio-feedback loop between smiles and our emotions. Our brains receive feedback from our facial muscles in order for the brain to know what we are feeling. When you smile a real smile (a Duchenne smile) the brain gets the message that you are happy. It’s a two-way street. When something makes you feel happy, the brain sends a message to the face to smile. The feeling of happiness and the smile reinforce each other. The happier you feel the more you smile, the more you smile the happier you feel.

Smiling generates positive emotions within you and it reduces the level of stress hormones. Some studies have shown a correlation between smiling and longevity. This does not necessarily mean that if you smile more you will live longer—correlation is not causation—but it makes sense. More positive emotions and less stress can lead to better health and longer life.

Turn that frown upside down. A fake smile, just like fake laughter, can turn into a genuine smile. More smiling may bring you amazing benefits.

A Smiling Baby

A baby's smile can brighten anyone's day.

A baby's smile can brighten anyone's day.

Do Men and Women Differ On Smiles?

Women may smile more than men because it is more socially acceptable for women to smile. Does this propensity to smile more make women happier than men? Is it why women, on average, live longer than men?

In general women are more attuned to others emotionally in terms of understanding what others are really feeling. They are more adept at knowing when someone is showing a fake smile or a real smile.

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.

— Mother Teresa

Are People Who Smile a Lot More Successful?

Not only does smiling make you happy and healthy, but it apparently can help you be successful also.

One reason for this is that people unconsciously mimic the smile they see on the person they are with. If your smile is genuine when you meet with someone or you talk with them, you will elicit a genuine smile in return. As a consequence both you and the other person will feel happier and have a more successful interaction.

People who do telephone sales have told me that they are more successful when they smile, even though the other person can’t see them. The person on the other end of the line can somehow ‘hear the smile." I have even heard that you are more likely to get a positive response to an email if you smile while you are writing it.

I’m smiling right now. Can you feel it?

Just for fun

© 2015 Catherine Giordano