Have You Heard Laughing and Smiling Are Contagious?
A life lesson learned from an old fart in the grocery store.
Instead of an alarm clock, I was awakened by the sound of my dog retching onto the white carpet in my bedroom. My sympathy for him quickly subsided, however, when I found a dirty dish sitting precariously on the edge of the kitchen counter.
When unsupervised with a people-food buffet left out in my kitchen, poor Fido can’t help himself. But most people-food doesn’t agree with Fido’s sensitive stomach, so fast forward to the vomit on my rug.
Looking at the rest of my kitchen, I realized my kids’ promises to clean up their mess last night were forgotten or ignored. Irritation permeated my soul. (I’m very dramatic when I’m mad.)
While cleaning up Fido’s mess, and the kids’ mess, I mumbled under my breath. After making sure Fido was okay, I had breakfast, gulped down half a pot of coffee, and left the house to run errands — still mumbling to myself.
I meandered through the grocery store from aisle to aisle. It was busy, and the crowds of people annoyed me.
How dare that woman stand in front of the milk cooler for so long! Doesn’t she see me standing there trying to be patient?
I consulted my shopping list as I exited the bread aisle turning to find myself in the middle of another dense crowd. An austere-looking gentleman with white hair and deep lines around his eyes maneuvered his cart straight toward mine. As I swerved to the left, he mirrored my action. So I moved back to the right. Again he mirrored me, this time bumping his cart into mine. I put on a polite smile and apologized – because being polite is what is required in public, right?
This grown man who was probably old enough to be my grandfather, who carried around an oxygen tank in his cart, giggled like a little kid!
And then… he bumped into my cart with his own AGAIN.
At first, I stood there, dumbfounded. This man was chuckling loud enough for several other shoppers to pause and take notice. It was as if this amused stranger thought we were two kids in the schoolyard playing a game of freeze tag or something. Was he waiting for me to bump him back?
I felt a slow grin spread across my face, and then a laugh escaped me. Hearing my own giggle caused me to laugh some more. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this random moment of ridiculousness.
When he finally moved his cart to let me through, he was still giggling in short spurts. His eyes seemed to sparkle as he walked past me.
This playful run-in was precisely what I needed to snap me out of my grouchy reverie. I had been stewing on hours past. Dwelling on things that didn’t matter. And it took a complete stranger — a comical old man — to help me remember to live in the present.
If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present. — Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and guiding figure of Taoism
Living in the present is a daily practice for me. It’s something I strive for but rarely accomplish during all twenty-four hours a day. It’s a habit I’m attempting to create for myself — for my mental health and personal joy.
Remembering the old fart’s giggle in the grocery store helps.
Now when I go to the grocery store, I play the giggle-game with all the other shoppers — they just don’t know they’re participating. I’m not bold enough to purposefully crash my cart into others (we’ll leave that strategy to the comical stranger), but I smile sincerely at the other patrons. I aim to get ten smiles back, but even one makes me feel good to be present in that moment.