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by Kevin Eikenberry
Driving down the road last weekend, I had a flashback to about twenty-five years ago. We were on a family vacation, driving to see family in New York State and then on to Pennsylvania. Mom and Dad, probably looking for ways to keep their two young kids busy, borrowed a sign about fifteen inches long and three inches high. On one side of the sign was painted "Smile" and on the other side, "Thanks!". The sign got a lot of use on the trip. One of us would hold up the sign, so a car behind us could read "Smile". If they did, we turned the sign over and they got the reward of "Thanks!"

This was in the days before seat belts and we would often be turned around, pressing the sign to the glass, hoping the following vehicle would see the sign and we could elicit a smile. Or we would try to get passengers as they passed us, pressing the sign up to our windows. The biggest scores came from trucks who would often punctuate their smiles with a blow of their airhorns!

These were the memories I pondered as I drove last weekend, everyone else in the car asleep. I wondered if the exercise would build the same kinds of memories for my kids some day as it did for Paula (my sister) and I. I smiled as I drove and figured that was about that. But then I couldn't seem to get it out of my mind. I started to realize that the sign taught me much more than a fun way to pass time in a car. It taught me some thing about human nature, sharing and giving, and the power of a smile and a thank you.

Have you ever noticed how much better you feel when you are smiling? Scientists can tell us about real changes in our body chemistry when we are smiling, and most of us have heard about the fact that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. All of that is interesting, but not as important as the mental and physical feeling we have when we are smiling. It is very powerful.

It is human nature to smile when we are happy or when things are going well, but did you know how easy it is to just smile (it is just a choice). Also do you know how easy it usually is to make someone else smile? I do this all the time. Walking through an airport or down a hallway where other people are, if you make eye contact and smile, what happens? Invariably people smile back - regardless of how sour they looked before that! You don't even have to say anything, just smile. And what happens to you when you do that little test? You keep smiling long after they pass. (And I suspect so do they.) They have benefited from your simple act, but you have benefited at least as much or more.

The smile lesson is important, but no more so than the flipside, the thanks! Playing this driving game was one of the many ways my parents taught me the importance and value of gratitude, most easily expressed with a simple thank you.

The story goes that a farmer took some of his corn to the State Fair and won the blue ribbon, for the best corn. A reporter asked him what he was going to do with the prized ears of grain he was holding. He said that he would share the seed with his neighbors. The reporter was visibly surprised and asked, "Why would you want to do that?" The farmer calmly answered that his corn was only as good as his neighbors. "Why sir," said the farmer, "didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn."

So it is with smiling. You are the wind. You can produce smiling faces by spreading your pollen. The cost to you is slight, but the fruits of your pollen will be felt all around. So who are you going to smile to today? (Right now?)

� Kevin Eikenberry
Kevin is a speaker, trainer, author, and President of the Discian Group. You can reach Kevin at kevin@discian.com.


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