When was the last time you went to a store and the checkout clerk or salesperson didn’t have a big smile on his or her face? If you didn’t know any better, you’d think just about every store in the country was the happiest place on earth, filled with people who couldn’t imagine having a better job than selling you sneakers. And while that may be true for some, we know that forced show of joy is often just part of what it takes to stay employed. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that it works.
As Bloomberg‘s Rebecca Greenfield writes, “Relaxed shoppers spend more, research has found, and they’re more likely to return if they’ve had a pleasant experience.” Greenfield goes on to warn, however, that there is a downside: “Perennial perkiness also risks irritating customers and emotionally exhausting employees.”
Fortunately for all those store workers whose faces are in danger of morphing into a permanently fake smile, a recent study hints that there may be an easier way to achieve the same effect. Shoppers in Canada were given one of two stickers on their receipts. One group received a smiley-face while the other a generic geometric shape. A follow-up survey on the shoppers’ respective experiences revealed that those who received the smiley-face sticker reported feeling “significantly more satisfied” than those who did not.
As the study’s author remarked, “I was shocked . . . I think customer service matters, but if you want to affect someone’s recall of that experience, you can do so regardless of whether that experience was negative, neutral, or positive.” Essentially, where the cheer comes from may matter less than we think so long as it’s there.
That’s good news. As fallen people living in a fallen world, there will be days where we are left with the option of either faking happiness or admitting to those around us that our day has been far from perfect. The latter option seems like the more honest response but, so often, we’re afraid to choose it. It may feel like that façade is expected of us, but it’s neither what our Lord requires nor what he modeled during his life.
When Jesus grew tired, he wasn’t afraid to show it (John 4:6). When he became frustrated with the disciples, religious leaders, or others who failed time and again to understand his purpose, he didn’t act as though everything was alright (Matthew 16:5–12). And when he was overwhelmed by the pressures of life, he wasn’t afraid to admit it (Matthew 26:38).
The difference between how Jesus handled those emotions and how we so often do, however, is that he never allowed those struggles to rob him of his joy or ability to share God’s love with others. Part of the reason we do ourselves and others a disservice when we act as though everything is alright when it’s not is that we miss the opportunity to show others how God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The struggling world around us doesn’t need more Christians pretending that everything is alright. It needs more Christians admitting that this life is far from perfect and demonstrating that that’s alright. When we embrace the difficult times and focus on allowing God to redeem them rather than on finding ways to hide them, we give others a reason to want to know our Lord.
So the next time you’re going through a rough day and someone asks you how you are, resist the urge to put on that fake smile and say that everything is fine. Instead, embrace the vulnerability of admitting that your life is far from perfect, while finding peace and joy in the fact that it doesn’t have to be because our God is. That’s good news for every single person you’ll meet today and you don’t even have to fake a smile to share it.