“Smiles everyone”. I believe this is one of the lines from the beginning of Fantasy Island (dating myself here) as the last command before the guests arrive. Something always stuck with me about this line, along with the lyric, “put on a happy face”. I can recall how it felt so fake since underneath the facade of a happy face was sadness, fear and anger. This was the story of my childhood, attempting to be a happy, go lucky kid, while surrounded by pain and abuse. For a long time I put the happy face on hold. It was not until years later that I began to heal my past and discover new joy in my life. It truly was not too late to have a Happy Childhood and smile again.
There is one story in particular that made a significant impact on my life which resulted in more smile time than frown time. It was while I was in Disney World and attending some training put on by Disney regarding increasing customer satisfaction. At one point they asked who we thought had the most difficult role in Disney resorts. The answer was the Disney characters who appeared in the park resulting in lines of small children waiting to get an autograph and a hug from their favorite characters. For those that know the Florida climate know that the temperatures are in the 90’s most of the year, along with very high humidity. Imagine being in a costume in these temperatures. Along with this were the kids tugging at the characters demanding their attention and not wanting to let go. In addition were the parents who wanted just one more picture and were often worse than the kids in their demands in order to make this a true “Kodak” moment.
We learned about how these employees arrived and entered in separate entrances to their dressing rooms. The rooms were filled with memorabilia related to that character. There they transformed themselves into that character. Stories were that these employees were always in their character even in the underground tunnels beneath Disney World. Never were they caught out of character. The reason was quite simple, what would happen if a character such as Mickey or Minnie Mouse had a bad day. The impact would be devastating to the children. Part of the mystique that Disney offers came from this understanding, to set aside your personal issues and while on premises to focus on the guests in order to provide them a world-class experience.
It was this last point that really had an impact me. And from that point forward I mimicked this in my own life. As I arrived at work and approached the security gate I started a ritual where I would envision leaving my problems behind me. I was one of the few who would stop and say hi to the security officer. While others cut their colleagues off to slip into a better parking place, I went to the back of the parking lot to avoid this. And once out of my car door, whenever I saw an employee for the remainder of the day, I would smile and say hello, not matter what their role or status was.
Six years later I was to relocate to another location of the company and they held a going-away party for me. It was during this time that I heard from many of my fellow employees a similar response. One comment represented this best as they said, “Michael, every day I could count on your smile and saying hello. I counted on you to help make my day, particularly on those days I was not feeling well or something was going on in my life. At times when you visited our production area you would stop by and say hi to me. You made me feel important even though I was just an operator. You showed that you cared and that meant a lot to me and I know the other workers here. You will be missed!”
I wrote this down after she left since it meant so much to me to hear this. Others shared similar thoughts. It felt as if I was leaving family! And so much of this was due to the simple premise of putting the rest of my life on hold for a few hours while I put on that happy face and showed others I cared for them. I continue this practice each and every day knowing now that I am making a difference.
What reminded me of this was my experience yesterday when I walked the neighborhood with my dog. Frankly I was not feeling that great related to some issues I was dealing with in my life. However, I forced my smile back on, took some deep breaths and said hi to those around me and passing me by in their vehicle. In every case except one, a smile was returned to me and in several cases a shared hello and even brief conversation. By the end of my walk I felt better and even happier than when I started out.
I recall reading some research about the impact smiling has. My experiences have only proved this to me. Even in the most difficult of times, there are small reasons to smile. By smiling we make a difference in other’s lives and even with ourself.