This past Sunday morning, I tried something new. After going to training sessions and classes, I was ready to be a Eucharistic minister at the Catholic Church that I've attended since I was born. A Eucharistic minister is someone who hands out Communion to other members of the church during Mass. Now, before anyone clicks away from the page, not wanting to read about the Catholic faith, let me assure you that I am not intending to write of my religion, but instead, the power of my experience.
On the car ride to church, my mom went over everything I needed to do and gave me a few words of advice. "Most importantly, just look each person in the eye and smile." Not sure of why that was important, I nodded my head and said I would. As I was giving Communion, I did as my mom said and smiled to each person who came to receive the Body of Christ. It felt natural, like I didn't need to worry about it seeming that I wasn't sincere in a simple action. Once Mass was over, a woman came up to me and congratulated me. "And thank you for smiling," she said warmly. Taken aback, I didn't quite know how to respond. "You're welcome" made it seem like it was a chore, so instead, I smiled once again. She then patted my shoulder, returning the grin, and walked away.
I thought about that moment all day. "Thank you for smiling," repeated in my mind on a loop. Why was that so meaningful? Why did it affect that woman so much that she went out of her way to come up to me and thank me for such a small act? It was just a smile, and not even a big one! Just a small, close-mouthed grin. Why did it matter so much?
As corny and lame as it sounds, I found my answer in a dream that night. I was walking down a street after some weird occurrences that only happen in dreams, feeling upset about them. As a stranger was passing me, he looked me in the eye and smiled. I stopped in my tracks, all the sadness leaving my heart as I realized that the happiness that was leaking out of that man was soon soaking into my own skin. And then, I woke up.
I think that the answer was way less complicated than I was trying to make it. We smile when we see people we love for the first time in a long time. We smile when we're laughing hysterically. We smile when we hear good news. We smile when things actually work out the way we want. It's as simple as this: When we're happy, we smile. And when we smile to someone as we pass them on the sidewalk, at the mall, or in the school hallway, we are spreading that happiness, whether we know it or not. That's why a smile is so important. That's why it means so much to people. Because when someone smiles at you, the reaction is to smile back. It's a signal. It's a symbol. It's all those things we're taught in English class that we thought were overanalyzed. It's powerful. A smile can change a mood. A day. A week, a month, a year. A life. A smile can change the world. And we have to believe in this power that each of us holds. We have to believe that small acts can make huge impacts.
So when I looked each person in the eye and smiled at them, I was spreading my happiness in that moment to everyone who came up to me with their hands open to receive Communion. I found that I was even happier once I saw people smiling back at me. If we want to truly be happy, we must spread it.
And that starts with a smile.