Show that smile
There’s a receptionist at the front desk who was born with a frown on her face and it never goes away. Truthfully, I’m one to talk since I have the same product defect and it takes twice as much effort for me to smile as it does to frown. But this woman, I’m convinced, gets pleasure from frowning and when you enter the office, she’ll grunt and sneer and growl like a pit bull when a chihuhua is trying to steal its steak bone. Other times, she sounds like one of those wrestling divas getting her head ground into the mat by a woman who resembles Kate Upton and Hulk Hogan. Whenever I go to that office, I leave an angry man because she never smiles. I know a lot of people like that. Too late in life, I realized the value of a smile — a simple smile, nothing more, from a receptionist, a dental assistant, a Victoria’s Secret model, a waiter, a waitress or my wife. When I was taking a college calculus course, which gave me countless reasons to be miserable, there was a nun in the class who was always smiling, and my friend would snicker, “She was probably born with that smile on her face.” Being a supercilious college student, I snickered along with him. But the passage of years and far too many encounters with nasty people makes me wish that nun were around today because there’s a shortage of joy and laughter in the world. There’s only sick laughter at the expense of someone’s misfortune or ridicule. Why do so many of us take delight in misery? An estimated seven in 10 people say they work with chronic complainers, which says a lot about the American workplace. Many employees, I suspect, are malcontents because of bad bosses who can spread unhappiness like herpes. But complaining takes its toll on you. A study at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found that negativity stresses the “hippocampus.” That’s not a jungle animal from the Congo. It’s this thing in your brain that works somewhat like the air traffic control tower at LaGuardia. Being around grumbling and nastiness upsets the hippocampus and disrupts connections in the brain. It also kills off neurons, which are necessary to perform vital functions, such as balancing our checkbooks and communicating, however primitively, with the teenagers in our families. Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life, wrote that when the hippocampus is bombarded by negative vibes, it causes “declines in cognitive function, including the ability to retain information and adapt to new situations,” and pretty soon, your brain starts responding like Homer Simpson’s. I was shocked to learn this receptionist could be killing millions of neurons in innocent people’s brains and they don’t even realize it. People, who were probably happy-go-lucky before they walked into the office leave angry and go home and kick the dog for no apparent reason. There should be a law. Complaining, of course, is the American way. I live with a chronic complainer, and every morning I get a text-message or 200 from her about the morning’s problems on Metro-North like late trains, canceled trains, cold and hot trains, crowded trains and someone eating a smelly bag of Fritos for breakfast. And while I admit the train service is enough to make a good man go bad, a grown man cry and a hippocampus shake, rattle and roll, I want to rise above the fray, which means to say, I don’t want to get depressed or develop stomach problems. As it is, I work with a 23-year-old who’s already addicted to Prilosec and Tums, which says a lot about where we’re headed as a society. So please stay away from me if you’re a natural-born grumbler. Gigglers I can tolerate, but barely. I want to be around people who find joy and peace amid the wreckage of life. Give me the people struggling to smile. Joe Pisani may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.