The Mona Lisa

Courtesy of Drue Sokol

A smile is contagious. Sure, that’s a frequently used cliché, but it’s true — so why not reiterate it? Bad days happen to the best of us: We fail tests, we fight with our parents and, sometimes, we just want to curl up in a ball and cry. However, we don’t have to let those days bother us for too long if we let ourselves lead happy lives.

Smiling may be the easiest, fastest way to find happiness. We don’t need to exert much physical effort when flashing our pearly whites and we don’t need to spend a single penny. Still, we benefit. One smile leads to another, which makes someone else’s day a little bit brighter and, in turn, makes our days brighter, too.

It’s been said that a smile is the best makeup any girl can wear, but there are two things wrong with that statement. The first, and perhaps obvious, fault is that everyone — not just “any girl” — should wear a smile. Maybe the phrase only mentions girls because guys do not typically wear makeup, but I’d still amend the saying and state that the best article in anyone’s wardrobe is his or her smile.

That brings me directly to a second problem: The statement leads us to treat a smile like makeup in the first place. When girls hide behind layers of foundation and eyeliner, they mask their natural beauty. Makeup, when used appropriately, works wonders to cover a zit or make eyes pop, but in excess it just looks fake.

If makeup is compared to a smile, then beauty must be compared to happiness, right? Well, the analogy is not so simple.

For some, the two concepts are directly analogous: Smiling on occasion means you really mean it, while smiling constantly means you’re only pretending to be happy. Others who wear a smile every day, however, are sincerely expressing their happiness. They aren’t hiding — they just lead happy lives. The difference is that their smile is a part of their natural beauty and not their makeup.

I work at a restaurant, and during every shift at least one employee complains about something while not busy waiting on tables. I’ve complained too. I’m only human. When dealing with customers, though, a positive attitude and a smile are key to earning good tips. Observing the shift in behavior between the chatter among fellow employees and the communication with guests has shown me, in a very fundamental way, how forced happiness can be.

Time flies when you’re having fun, but how can you have fun if you aren’t happy? The bad days will dissipate and their effects won’t be detrimental so long as we let happiness take the driver’s seat.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked why I stick up for everyone, why I don’t hold grudges, why I believe people are inherently good and why I give second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. The answer is the same as my reason for smiling, even in the worst of situations.

It’s because I lead a happy life, and doing so comes with countless perks. For example, I’ve made so many good friends that I would have otherwise never come by and I see a bad grade as a bump in the road, not as the end of the world.

We shouldn’t let our happiness be a rarity we hope to uncover. We shouldn’t even let it be a daily possibility. Happiness should be our standard.

The songs about smiling are quite abundant: Vitamin C advises, “put a smile on your face / make the world a better place,” Nat King Cole says, “smile, though your heart is aching / smile, even though it’s breaking” and Avril Lavigne explains, “and that’s why I smile / it’s been a while since every day and everything has felt this right.”

Forget about whether or not you think the songs are too childish, too cheesy or too mainstream because the lyrics are truly important.

The gossip you feel you can’t get enough of, the image you feel you have to maintain and the judgmental attitude you knowingly or unknowingly exude work to keep you from leading a genuinely happy life.

Maybe you feel like your world is crashing down around you or maybe you just need a quick pick-me-up, but happiness is not as far out of your grasp as you might think. In fact, you can have it whenever you want it. We all have access to happiness; the key is in a smile.

Seligman is a member of the class of 2012.

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