Have you ever had the synchronistic experience where you’re thinking about something, and suddenly it appears right before your eyes? That happened to me last week as I was driving home from a seminar. I was mulling over the idea that anyone, anywhere, at any time can be our mentor, if we are open to learning. (It’s happened more than once that a checker in a grocery store has mentored me, unbeknownst to them. Also, my little children are always mentoring me, as I write about here.) One of the seminar presenters talked about how when he sees a bum, he thinks of him as a “Brother Under Modification.” These people are in transition; trying to find their place. They have unlimited potential, and shouldn’t be judged based on their present state and situation. They’ve had experiences and challenges that many of us will never have, so their perspective is unique and important, but we so rarely hear their stories.
Just a few seconds after these thoughts crossed my mind, I came up over a hill and was amazed to see an old bum dressed in dirty, dark clothes shuffling down the sidewalk. His shoulders were stooped under the weight of more than a half-dozen faded fabric bags. A gnarly salt-and-pepper beard haloed his jaw. His skin was deeply tanned and leathery, etched with deep grooves. But the thing that stood out most about him was the huge grin spread across his face. I was awestruck. Here was someone with all his worldly possessions on his person, no roof over his head, and probably no job or family. Despite all that and more, he was clearly a very happy guy. He was living proof that happiness doesn’t depend on our circumstances or situation.
Furthermore, he was allowing his joy to radiate outward from his face. I consider myself to be a happy person. I smile often and laugh every now and then, especially when I’m around my children. But how often do I walk around grinning? It’s pretty rare. And why don’t I? Smiling makes you feel good and has been proven to boost your own happiness, but not only that, your smile can elevate and energize anyone around you. It’s contagious. It can set off a chain reaction for more and more good. I can recall many times when all it took was one person’s smile to turn my whole day around.
And isn’t it the truth that most people out there need a boost? Even if it’s just a small one? Studies show that only one in three Americans consider themselves to be happy. Whoa! That means probably two out of every three people you come across are unhappy or even depressed. This is so sad to me, especially given that Americans enjoy a quality of life and opportunities that most of the world probably can’t even comprehend. Most of us bask in an insulated layer of peace and safety that we are largely unconscious of. The technology of our day has made the tasks of living, transportation and communication a snap. We have access to virtually unlimited information and educational opportunities. We spend more time in recreation than probably any society in the history of the world. We live long lives largely free of pain, disease and disability. And yet, despite all these benefits, there is great darkness in this world that holds people back from the joy that is their birthright. How valuable are even the slightest bursts of light that penetrate this great fog! Your joyous smile can make a big difference.
This was just a small experience that I could have easily completely missed, but I just knew I needed to put it out there, and let the good from that one bum’s grinning face ripple out into the world. Since I can’t thank him for his example, I can pay it forward by sharing my smile with others. I hope you will, too!