This week I am contemplating the smile and the nature of happiness.

Sunday I was walking in Carpenter’s Woods with our two dogs, Toby and Riley. As we swept around a curve in the trail, I spotted a thin androgynous figure moving towards us. As the person emerged out of the shadows I saw it was a young woman; her hair, bleached to the color and consistency of straw, stuck out at almost right angles to the red wool cap pulled low over her forehead. On her face, she wore an expression as devastated as Nagasaki after the bombing. She continued walking towards us with heavy steps, seeming to sink further into the soft earth with every step, the weight of the world’s woes piled on her back.

She stared at us approaching through eyes dulled by the twin cataracts of sadness and disappointment. Riley, spotting her, ran towards her. Her mouth was a thin line of grim determination as she regarded him with a mixture of dread and suspicion. What new hell this? she seemed to be thinking.

Riley rushed up to her, tail wagging, his entire rear end shaking with anticipation.

She looked down at him. “Why he’s the happiest dog ever, isn’t he?” she said.

She squatted, and staring into his black button eyes exclaimed, “He looks like he’s smiling!” As I watched her, watching him, a smile like the breaking dawn brightened her face.

And there before my eyes I saw it happen—one smile begat another.

I believe smiling is important. I smile a lot. And I’m a sucker for a man who smiles. Ok, I’m also a sucker for a man with a nice ass but that’s another post.

I’m always telling my husband to smile. I think he’s too cynical and self-conscious to smile for no reason. Often when we are out walking, a stranger, usually a man, will say hello in passing. Inevitably our ensuing conversation goes like this:  

He asks, “Do you know him?”
“Well, why did he speak to you?”
“I smiled at him.”

Years after we met when we finally started dating Stanley confessed that he thought I was young and silly when he first met me. I asked him why and he a-said it was because I was so giddily happy all the time. I don’t know why people associate happiness with a paucity of mental capacity or good sense, as if happy people are simply too stupid to see all the reasons to be miserable.

Smiles are big for the characters I create, too. I decided to do a search for “smile” in my books and look at the role they play in my stories. Below are some of my favorite smile excerpts from my books.

This scene from “The Lost Boys” a short story from Damaged Angels, is one of my favorites:

The young man looked at him in staring wonder. The trace of a smile played about his lips. His mouth twitched then began a slow upward curve. Even, white teeth gleamed. A sharp red tongue darted between full, soft lips. The smile continued to grow until it seemed to swallow up his face, then stretched to encompass The Merry-Go-Round and with it the tumultuous morning.

The smile, full-blown, touched the Lost Boy like grace. And saved the wretch.

And this from What Binds Us, when Thomas-Edward ill-advisedly hugs the formidable and distant Mrs. Whyte:

She tilted her head up and delivered a stillborn smile when my lips brushed her cheek. As my arms folded around her, I felt a tiny shiver pass through her.

In Vampire Rising, Barnabas understands how the return of a smile can invite, or repel:

When one of the men caught his eye and smiled at him, Barnabas returned the smile, with a tentative one of his own which was clearly a polite acknowledgement, but not an invitation to further intimacy.

And later, it is Gatsby’s smile that confirms Barnabas’ suspicion:

Gatsby smiled and it was then that Barnabas saw the canine teeth. He’d suspected it but still he jumped a little.

In Unbroken, it is Jose’s smile that helps Lincoln discover his own truth, and launches him on a quest to capture the heart of the first boy he truly loves:

I was twelve, and in seventh grade. He was the new kid. His name was Jose Calderon. He walked into fourth period music, smiled, and changed everything. Until that moment, I had believed their lies, had ignored my own truth.

So tell me, in the comments below, how are smiles important to you? Does happiness automatically imply a mental deficiency?


  1. I remember ages ago when I started my very first job after moving to southern California. It was at a fast food restaurant, which I had never done before, but it was just to be a temporary gig. After the first half-dozen orders I took at the drive-through window, my trainer noted that I smiled ever time I spoke into the intercom. "Yes," I told her. "It changes your voice." Much later, while vacuuming and listening to my favorite singer, I had to stop and listen to a particular phrase she had just sung. I was amazed. I thought to myself, "You can hear her smile." Smiles touch. Smiles resonate. Smiles lighten our mood and change how we see the world. Sometimes it's the hardest thing to do, but the most necessary.

    1. You are exactly right and you expressed your thoughts beautifully here. I was at a neighborhood event Saturday. As a volunteer I worked from 11:30 to 6:30, on my feet all day. Someone later emailed me and commented she'd seen me running about all day and every time she saw me my smile was bigger. As you said so eloquently, "Sometimes it's the hardest thing to do, but the most necessary."


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