Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day. ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
For the past six weeks or so I’ve been sharing photos of smiles that I see in inanimate objects on my social media accounts. The idea started in August when my husband and boys went to dinner at the iconic Daly City institution, Joe’s of Westlake, now known as Original Joe’s Westlake.
We hadn’t been to the restaurant in years, so when I slid into the booth, I laughed when I saw that despite the renovation and remodel of the restaurant, the sugar bowls had remained the same: a large bowl with a roll-top that slid open and closed; the bowl reminds me of a silver gaping Pac Man. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture.
“Doesn’t it look like the sugar bowl is smiling?” I asked my family. They looked at me like I was crazy.
About a month later, I scrolled through my phone and came across the photo; I decided to post it on social media with a comment “Is it just me who tends to see smiles in inanimate objects?”
A week later, as I stepped up onto the Pilates reformer and looked at the straps, I knew I had to take a picture: the two shoulder rests were eyes and the horizontal foot straps were the smile. I posted that picture as well with a comment: “I always seem to see smiles in inanimate objects.” The “smile” on the Pilates reformer had been a daily motivator for years.
My friend Queenie commented on the post: “There’s a name for that – pareidolia!”
I had no idea and so I looked it up: Pareidolia is the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Pareidolia is also used in the Rorschach inkblot test to gain insight into a person’s mental state.
If I am seeing smiles all the time, I’d like to think I am in a state of happiness.
Since my first post, I’ve posted pictures of smiles found in my Instant Pot, my son’s PS4 controller, and the inside of the half-and-half carton.
When I walked into spin class on Saturday morning, Kerry, one of the front desk staff greeted me and told me she saw a smile on an inanimate object that morning as she drove over to the studio. She said she wanted to take a picture of it and send it to me, but she was driving and didn’t want to run the risk of having an accident.
“I love your smile posts! They make me smile!” she exclaimed.
I had to laugh, the day before, my friend Kate texted me a picture of eggs in a bowl; they were smiling. “Thought of you this morning,” Kate said in her text.
These days, there seems to be an over-arching sense of scarcity and negativity that surrounds us: homelessness, not enough money, the housing shortage, and politics. Amid my own issues with Lyme disease, a son with ARFID, a son with ADHD, and my aging Dad, I don’t want negativity to bring me down.
Finding respite in nature, daily writing, and being with my family and friends allow me to reflect on the positive stuff in my life, not just what I am grateful for, but why I am grateful. Over the past few years, I have learned to accept the value of having exactly what I need. I have been giving things away: clothes, books, household items, and money, but the best – and easiest thing for me to give away is a big smile.
I’ve been told, “Your smile lights up the room!” I know a friendly smile engages people and makes them smile back. Sometimes it stops them in their tracks.
When I walk Cody, I notice other people walking their dogs; many have their heads down, focusing on their phones. A hearty “Good Morning!” usually pulls them away from their device.
A few weeks ago, my Dad and I were walking a few blocks from his home when we saw one of his neighbors; she too, thought it was a perfect day for a walk.
As we approached her, my Dad and I each gave her a big smile and said “Good afternoon.” The woman stopped and touched my arm, “Thank you, thank you both. Our home has been somber. I needed a friendly face,” she told us. Hospice had just arrived to tend to her husband in his final days with late-stage cancer. I remember going through the same three years before with my Mom, it was a difficult time for our family.
Whether the smile is inanimate – perhaps showing up in the Instant Pot or on the inside of the half-and-half carton – or whether it is from my own being, I love the ripple effect of a smile and the positive impact on someone’s day or their outlook. You never know how far and wide those ripples will spread.
The easiest thing to do is put a smile out to the world and see what comes back.