Janai smiling“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” William Arthur Ward

No one ever saw her smile. No one ever heard her speak a word. Ten years old, V lived in an isolation unit at a state institution where I worked for a summer in the late sixties. V sat and stared, rocking back and forth. Her motions when walking looked zombie-like. None of the workers could find a way to connect with her. It was as if she was vacant inside.

I learned that she was a victim of religious persecution from her own family. Born with beautiful thick black hair and dark eyes, they immediately labeled her a witch. Imagine being a baby and rejected in such a severe manner. She had older brothers and parents. They unanimously shunned her as well as abusing her in a myriad of ways. It was such a sad story. Her deep dark eyes looked empty. Where was she?

In gentle ways I would always speak to her as though she was listening and smile kindly even though there was no response. The children in that isolation unit were not allowed to go outdoors or to any public place. They each lived in their own isolation unit.

“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of LOVE.” Mother Teresa

A change of routine was frowned upon by administration. I kept getting an image of V being able to go outside and wade in a plastic pool. It took an avalanche of effort to meet with administration and doctors to get permission to take V outside to wade in the pool that I purchased for her. I learned long ago to trust my intuitive guidance or regret listening as well as never knowing what could have been.

The day finally arrived. I took V’s hand and guided her outside. She immediately sat down in the wading pool under a shade tree. I sat in a chair on the sideline with my feet in the pool, smiling at V with encouraging comments,”I’m so glad to be outside with you, V. I hope you are having fun.” Was she hearing me?

After 30 minutes in the pool making ripples with her hands, a bird started singing in the shade tree. V looked up and stared at the bird.

Out of the blue, V suddenly spoke, “I wish I could eat worms.” I almost fell off my chair. But I calmly responded, “Why do you want to eat worms, V?”

“So I can be a bird and fly away.”

My heart ached, responding, “I understand.” A lingering sweet half smile appeared on V’s face as she kept staring at the bird. It was a dose of freedom she gave herself from the reality she wanted to escape from.

Soon the outdoor time limit ended. I led V back into her entrapped hell where she resumed her usual lack of expression. This occurred near the end of my summer position. Months later I was informed V never spoke another word or smiled another smile. Sadly, a life without smiles is like living in a dungeon without windows.

“Smile, and let the world wonder why.” Minnie Mouse

Research shows that children smile an average of 400 times per day.The average happy adult smiles 40-50 times per day. And the typical adult smiles only 20 times per day. Psychological Science reports researchers at the University of Kansas found the act of smiling has a positive effect on happiness and physical health, helping the heart recover more quickly after stressful events. Smiling during a taxing task – not just after – can help the body and mind recover more quickly.

Henry Ford Health Benefits states a smile is loaded with health benefits. It releases endorphins (natural pain killers), cortisol and serotonin, proving smiling reduces blood pressure, increases endurance, reduces pain, reduces stress, strengthens immune system, improves mood, creates healthier brain functioning, improves relationships, and relaxes the body.

Smiling is a natural drug for homemade happiness. Stir up a daily batch for yourself!

“If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” Dolly Parton

This article originally appeared in The Local’s Guide.