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How a Single Smile From a Stranger Saved My Life

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Have you ever thought about how it can be that a smile is contagious?

I’ve often seen it said that if you are feeling low, to stand in front of the mirror and smile at yourself – supposedly the brain releases chemicals when you smile that will help counteract the blues. Personally, I haven’t found standing in front of the mirror during the midst of a depressive episode to be particularly productive, but many others have said it helps them to feel more positive and their forced smile becomes genuine.

However, there is a day firmly in my memory, a day when a beaming smile from a stranger potentially changed the course of my own life.

Several years ago I was experiencing a particularly bad day, one that stood out as being worse than other bad days. I honestly can’t remember why it was worse — probably a build up of emotion — but I remember feeling terribly lonely, invisible, worthless, unseen. I was distraught, feeling hopeless and very irrational. With the kids delivered safely to school, I was heading home and was unsure what I would do once I got there — I remember feeling deeply suicidal. It was a horrible drive home, tears rolling down my cheeks, feeling as though the world was speeding past me at warp speed (although I was plodding along at about 60 kph).

Then, around a corner came a farmer bouncing along in a beat up yellow utility vehicle. I recall his old farm dog hanging over the back, tongue hanging out, happy as anything with the wind blowing back in its fur. This farmer waved at me, his smile broad and genuine; he looked as happy as his old dog. In the split second our paths crossed on that country road, he looked into my eyes and warmed my heart.

It seems silly to say it, but the loneliness and invisibility I had felt dissipated in that moment, because someone had looked at me and smiled — a stranger and his happy dog, going about their day, had passed by me in a flash but infected me with hope. The smile was contagious; it helped me more than words adequately can tell you, and I will always remember the feeling of it.

It was a feeling I want to be able to share – when I am driving alone in the country I smile and wave to each driver who passes me by, when I go to the shops, I look people in the eyes and smile at them, even on the days when smiling takes all my energy — especially on those days! I have observed many times myself how the smile can transfer to them too, seen the way their face relaxes. That is how I share the smile given to me on a day when I needed it the most, by someone who has no idea what a difference they made in my life.

A simple smile is the most inexpensive random act of kindness you can give – it could even change a life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Kat and Steve Smith – KS Photography.

Originally published: April 7, 2017
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