By Tia Woodel

There is something about a simple smile that instantly makes a rough day better.

I can’t remember one instance in which a stranger smiled at me and I didn’t return the gesture. A smile from someone I know is always helpful, but a smile from a stranger, someone I don’t always expect it from – that is powerful.

This is a photo of myself. Photo by Tia Woodel

Everybody deals with their own struggles. Whether it’s a death in the family, a divorce, money issues, or anything else, it’s easy to get caught up in the negatives of life.

A smile has always helped me break through some of my own struggles.

My great-grandmother died last year.  On top of the stress of being a college student, now I had to deal with the fact that I no longer had any living great-grandparents. After her funeral, I cried the entire one hour drive back to my apartment.

I pulled into the parking lot and dried the tears from my face. A girl my age was walking by. She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. The gesture was so simple, yet so meaningful.

According to research on what’s behind the smile, “many smiles are simply readouts of positive internal states such as happiness.” Seeing the girl display such a positive expression was enough to make me take a step back and realize I would make it through this, just as I have in every other tough situation.

She didn’t have to say anything to me. She didn’t need to walk over and hug me, or assure me that everything was going to be okay. She simply turned the corners of the mouth up, exposing her front teeth. She simply smiled.

Photo by Tia Woodel

This has happened many times in my life. It always starts with me being distressed, but after a smile from a stranger, my worries seem to be so much less significant.

I believe in a simple smile from a stranger. A smile can make a difference. A smile can change a life.