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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Today’s word came pretty easily, considering it was a Monday and “think of word” is not typically at the top of my mental list. What is at the top of my mental list is I have to answer that client text¬†and Did I remember to send the car payment? and Why is it Monday again for the twelfth time this week?

I woke up and lay in bed for a few minutes, looking out the window. The window, which is above the windowsill. The windowsill, which if you look at it from a certain angle while lying in bed, looks like the number 7 attached to the wall. Not kidding, try it. Go look at your windowsill from the side and tell me if it looks like a 7.

So I thought, that could be a fun little word game for today. I could look around the house and find things that look like other things. Except “things that look like other things” is five words too long for this project.

But I couldn’t help myself, I still looked for things that looked like other things. I landed on the power outlet. It looks like a surprised face. Quite hilarious, actually. It made me smile.

The rest of the morning went about as mornings go. Race through whatever I can fit of my morning routine in before the day trumpets itself. Put on the water for coffee and tea, plunk the granola on the yogurt.

The granola came out amazing, by the way. And didn’t even require a disaster.

But it wasn’t a thing that looked like anything but granola. Nor was the tea kettle. And the napkin just sat there looking very napkinish.

My game had stalled, one discovery in. And I still had no word.

As I was making coffee I found myself sort of clenching my teeth and frowning, not because I was in a mood but because it’s my default state. I could feel those muscles on my face, tensing, pulling, making wrinkles.

Still considering the word of the day, I thought about “reversing the narrative”, which of course is three words, but then it struck me that the reverse of a frown is a smile.

And there it was.

Smile at the ice that fell on the floor. Smile at the pain in my knee when I clocked it on the edge of the cabinet. Smile at the cup of tea. Smile at the Hello Kitty (or two) on my desk.

Smile at the customer service rep on the other end of the chat who told me to try cleaning my air filter which had stopped working, right after I told him I had just cleaned the air filter.

I smiled when I logged into the third account for the day that informed me, “Oops, it looks like something went wrong!”

To be fair, that was maybe more of a grimace. And I did text my brother to complain about it afterwards. But I tried.

The important thing is to smile when you don’t want to. Anyone can smile at a cute power outlet or a tasty cup of tea. Where’s the challenge in that?

The trick is to smile at everything. The bad and good. Sometimes it is the most powerful weapon you have. It puts you in a mindset, and I’ve been told it causes fewer wrinkles, so there’s something else to smile about.

I learned a long time ago the little “smile when you pick up the phone” trick. Even if it’s a thinly veiled grimace, somehow your brain gets the message. Lighten up. You and your first world problems are dead to me!

I suspect you’ve heard this already, but just in case, the idea is that before you dial or answer a phone call, smile. It will make you nicer, and make the conversation more pleasant. Sounds corny but it also has the advantage of being true.

If it’s someone you don’t like, or, say, that person who keeps calling to tell you your car warranty is about to expire even though you haven’t owned that car in three years, then you’ll be in a better frame of mind and probably be less inclined to take your first world rage out on a human being who has the misfortune of having to call people about their car warranties in order to pay the rent.

Years ago, I had a client who had a receptionist who was 100% obnoxious. If it’s true that you can hear a smile in someone’s voice, it’s equally true that you can hear a scowl. This woman had a fierce, wrinkle-inducing scowl.

This was right at the time that I first learned the “smile into the phone” trick, so I had been practicing.

Now, a person of that scowlish caliber is not someone you typically feel like smiling at, and, in fact, are more inclined to think four-and-five letter words at. But when I get a thing in my head, then it’s in my head, and I was 100% determined to out-smile her.

No, she could not see my smile. And no, it didn’t make me any happier to talk to her. But it became like a mini-mission. The scowlier she got, the smilier I got.

The funny thing about it, is that it’s hard to sound mean when you’re smiling. It’s what all good Southern girls learn early, and why they will Bless Your Heart with a smile every time.

Anyway, I smiled the crap out of those conversations with my client’s receptionist. Which, in turn, made me nicer. Which, in turn, made her just slightly less obnoxious. Over the course of months, I kid you not, the entire glacier that had ensconced her soul had melted. It got to a point where we would have whole conversations about the weather and somebody’s birthday and oh my goodness did you see that movie?

There was even laughter.

At some point that client sold the business and was no longer my client. The receptionist and I parted ways, but not before she told me how wonderful it had been to work with me.

Strange world, eh?

There’s no way to tell if that will ever work again, unless I happen to stumble across Rude Receptionist #2, and no guarantee that it will work on everyone. But I’ve practiced it ever since, even with the customer service rep on the other end of the chat who told me to try resetting my air filter right after I told him I had just reset my air filter.

In the end, we can’t change what’s happening. We can only change our approach to it. And approaching things with a smile can usually… sometimes… occasionally… almost… convince you to be a little bit happier about them.

Photo: a surprised outlet on my kitchen backsplash.