Smile, and you'll recall what there is to smile about

I once had an office on the second floor of a bank, with big windows overlooking the parking lot. I loved it. My boss had the office on one side of me, also with big windows, and my co-workers were on the other side. The angle of all of our windows was such that it was very easy and natural for us to look out and down, but not so easy or natural for the folks coming and going in the parking lot to look up and in. We never talked about it much, but I suspect all my co-workers loved spying out the windows at the people coming and going as much as I did.

People do funny things before they get out of their cars. They check their teeth in the rearview mirror. Finish eating a sandwich or cookie. Listen to the end of a song on the radio. Getting ready to go into the bank, they often fiddle with papers on the seat beside them. And then, when they get out of their cars, they might pull at their pants or pat their hairdo. Job interviewees pop a stick of gum or straighten their clothes. From where we sat, the privacy that people assumed they enjoyed in their cars in a quiet parking lot was, in fact, a rather public display. I felt a little guilty watching strangers do their routines, but not so guilty that I refrained.

Where I felt most guilty was watching co-workers come and go. There's something a little melancholy about watching people you socialize with, people you like, moving on their own out in the world, outside the friendly loop, either coming in to work or going away. It can lead to a more compassionate atmosphere in the workplace as well as a momentary inspiration to stop looking out the window and get back to work.

It was during this season with the bank windows that I began what was, at first, an admittedly rather vain habit: I'd put on a big old smile in those few not-so-solitary minutes of arriving at work and decamping from my car in that parking lot. Assuming that I, too, was being watched, perhaps by strangers on the third floor, but also quite possibly by my own boss, I made a special effort to put on my glad face, demonstrating that I was indeed happy to come to work, happy to be gainfully employed. I wouldn't look up at the windows. I just wanted folks to assume that happiness was my natural demeanor. I couldn't be sure that my boss was watching, of course, or even that he was interested, but just in case....

That was several years ago. We've since moved our offices, and my boss is now ensconced in a windowless cubicle (poor chap). I fortunately still have a window, but it's on the first-floor and looks out on a ledge. Not nearly as many folks go by.

Still, in the mornings when I arrive at work, I find that my habit of putting on a big old smile continues.

What I discovered, back at the bank, was that my smile went before me, as it were, to make the crooked places straight. Smiling as I stopped my car, fiddled with my stuff, and then headed inside, somehow made the day's work more enjoyable. I found that I had a head start when I started my workday with a smile, even if no one was looking, and even if I was doing it for show.

But I also discovered that I actually had good reasons to smile - just being employed was reason enough. And although the reasons were there before I smiled, the smile itself brought those reasons to the surface. So I continue with my habit and commend it to others. A smile when first getting out of the car gives a booster rocket to the workday.

(It's only a happy coincidence, I assure you, that my boss's boss now has an office on the second floor, with windows that overlook my parking space.)

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