Wise Words: A smile is contagious. Try it.

Even in a lightning fast digital world, the tradition of passing down wisdom from older to younger is just as important as ever. Which is why we’ve spent the last several months dreaming about the answer to the question: What advice do you wish you could give to your 10-year-old self?

You’re reading the third in a series of four short personal stories (here’s the first and second), each inspired by a page in our new book, Wise Words For Kids.


Being a kid is not so easy. The old adage that childhood is the most trouble-free time of life does not quite ring true for me.

There are undoubted plus-points to being a child (the constant running, chasing pigeons, ice cream being the best thing in the world – to name but three), but it’s a fallacy to claim it’s all an absolute breeze.

You’ve been plunged into a terrifying world all around you, and you’re scrambling to find your place in it. Masses of brand-new information are piled upon you each and every day, with periodic tests in order to literally rank you among your peers. Given the choice, who’d be a kid?

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I was a pretty grumpy youth. It’s taken me until my 32nd year to truly admit it, but it’s an undeniable truth. Just ask any member of my family.

I can’t really attribute my dark demeanour at the time to anything in particular, just the normal woes associated with adolescence. You know the type, my mum wouldn’t buy me the shoes I wanted, and that girl in French class had absolutely no idea that I existed. The world was against me and I knew it.  

It’s one reason I will always have the upmost respect for teachers and their profession. They spend day-after-day facing numerous po-faced, joyless youngsters (statistically, I could not have been the only one). Yet, in my experience, the vast majority remain upbeat and positive.

And the best teachers don’t just teach. They motivate, they inspire, and they coax the very best out of their students.

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One particular piece of advice sticks out for me. It came from my secondary school history teacher, Mr. Williams, and it’s brilliant for its simplicity as much as its immediacy:

‘’A smile is contagious. Try it.’’

Simple and truthful, these small words of advice really hit me in the gut. Not only does it encourage a brighter outlook, but it also speaks of being kind to others, spreading a little joy as well as seeking it elsewhere. Ultimately, a smile elicited from another will only have a positive effect on you, and round-and-round it goes.

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Proof that a smile is just as powerful in adulthood came this very week. A visiting friend was trudging up an incline en route to my flat after a hard day’s sightseeing in Barcelona. A young kid, maybe 6 or 7, came racing towards him down the hill, sitting on his skateboard.

Here, my friend had a big decision to make: would he stand his ground, or would he make way for the mini Lewis Hamilton? He decided to do the noble thing and step aside.

The child on the skateboard, realising he didn’t have to slow down, unleashed a beam from ear-to-ear as he zipped past. This was obviously infectious, as my friend was grinning as he told me the story that evening. Even I can’t help but smile while I relay it here.

In fact, it has been scientifically proven that a smile really is contagious. Apparently, we mimic the facial expressions of those we are communicating with in order for our brain to better understand the way they are feeling. Science!

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So, Mr. Williams, thank you for your patience, kindness, and words of wisdom. Hopefully I’m a better adult for your teaching.

And to the small Catalan child on the skateboard: thank you for spreading a little bit of joy! Keep on racing down those hills.


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