Thursday, May 01, 2014


La sonrisa es el idioma universal de los hombres inteligentes.
(The smile is the universal language of intelligent people.)
--Víctor Ruiz Iriarte, Spanish playwright
AVE you ever really watched someone break into a smile?

No, I'm not referring to the forced, frozen rictus that people make in front of cameras, nor the wry smiles born of an effort to conceal heartfelt pain in a social setting. I'm not talking about smart-alec smirks or creepy leers or anxious, apologetic grins, either. I mean an honest, straightforward, happy, real smile -- the kind you see constantly in children, less often in teens, and (sadly) rarely in adults. Too many adults have learned to quash the impulse to smile; they hide their delight under a bushel.

I get that. I used to be afraid to smile in front of people. I was overly self-conscious of my appearance and thought people would find my smile awkward or ugly or off-putting. I didn't (and still don't) smile well for photographs. I didn't like the shape of my teeth or the way my eyes practically disappeared when I smiled. All of that was nonsense, of course, because true smiles aren't about any of those things. They're about being wholly in the moment, about how you spontaneously respond to receiving a sudden flash of pure pleasure. Chances are that if you're really smiling, you're not thinking about yourself at all.

A real smile cannot be forced or faked. And it doesn't begin with the mouth. Real smiles always begin in the soul, and move straight out to the eyes. Whatever it was that delighted you inside causes your eyes to sparkle with interest or humor or pleasure, makes the far edges of your eyes crinkle up with the joy of the moment. And from there it spreads further -- to the mouth, of course, open and wide and filled with happiness; to the cheeks, which naturally spread up and out as if to hold more joy; to the nose, which subtly opens out as well; to every part of the face. A smiling face is a face transformed by the happiness of the moment. It glows from within; people are said to "light up" when they truly smile. It's as though the best of who you are has risen from deep inside, floating up to the point where it shines brightly out of you, so that others can scarcely fail to see it.

This is one of the reasons why I have a fondness for the Spanish word "sonrisa." A number of Spanish words are false friends -- they resemble common English words but mean something quite different -- but in the case of "sonrisa," which means "smile," I find it particularly appropriate that it also resembles the English word "sunrise." Because, frankly, watching the face of a friend or loved one break into a glowing smile is as dazzling to the eye and far more warming to the soul than the movement of any daystar above the horizon. It's magic. And it's simply beautiful.

May you always be blessed with many reasons to smile. And don't ever hide it.

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