A baby’s smile is a thing of beauty. The lips are raised upwards in delight, the eyes light up, the nose crinkles just so, and an infectious gurgle emerges from those toothless gums. Who could possibly resist? Not me. Inevitably I find myself grinning back, cooing and gurgling and indulging in the kind of demented baby talk that all adults are reduced to when confronted with a smiling infant.
Yes, a baby’s smile can light up your day. But I often wonder what makes babies smile in the first place. Okay, when they are very young, it is probably gas. But once they begin to take in the world a little, what makes their faces light up with delight ever so often? What do they find so amusing as they chortle away in their cribs? Why is it that some games make them giggle irrepressibly and others leave them cold? (And how can they possibly go from full-throated laughter to high-pitched crying in a manner of seconds?)
With adults, it’s relatively easy to anticipate what will bring on the smiles. A fulsome compliment; a thoughtful present; a funny sequence in a movie; a witty one-liner in a TV sitcom; a great new haircut; your kid’s performance at the school concert; a long-awaited promotion; an unexpected raise; a wonderful meal; the list is long and predictable.
There are as many smiles as there are occasions that bring them on. There are the social smiles that we plaster on whenever we are out and about in company. They may be just a social grimace which doesn’t quite reach our eyes, but they are smiles for all that. There are the fake smiles that we immediately assume when a camera lens is trained on us, carefully calibrated so that we look happy rather than chubby. There are the smiles that we use to convey derision; the smiles we employ to express sarcasm; and the smiles we flash to show contempt.
And then there are the genuine ones that transform our entire beings with the happiness that lies behind them. A mother’s smile as she looks down on her suckling infant; a writer’s smile when he or she comes up with a particularly felicitous phrase; a father’s grin when his son finally manages to dispatch one of his medium-pace deliveries to beyond the square leg fence; a girl’s smile when her boyfriend surprises her with a ring; a child’s smile when his mother finally comes home after a long day at the office.
On occasion, our smiles break through against our better judgement. It probably makes me a callous so-and-so but I can’t help smiling whenever I watch someone stumble or fall. (In my defence, I giggle uncontrollably even if the person taking a pratfall is me.) I find myself smiling (but only in my head) when particularly pretentious people of my acquaintance mispronounce French or Italian words in an attempt to establish their credentials as polyglots. And no matter how politically incorrect the joke, I can’t help smiling at the punch line (I call it reflexive politeness to make myself feel better).
Sometimes, though, it is the darnedest things that make me smile. Rummaging through an old handbag and stumbling upon a Rs 100 rupee note tucked away in the lining; having an old favourite from the ’60s start playing on the radio as I wait at a traffic light; the smell of wet earth as the first rains hit the parched ground; finding a childhood picture of a family holiday tucked away in a book; the sight of a dog gambolling on the street; the first sip of a strong cup of coffee as I start the day; my little niece slipping her hand into mine.
I guess it’s true what they say. Happiness does lie in the details. And the only way to go through life is to snatch little moments of joy as and when you can, without obsessing too much about the big picture.
Watch the sunset from your balcony. Decompress with a walk on the beach. Spend your lunch hour on a park bench reading a book, or simply watching the world go by. Cool off with an ice-cream on a hot summer afternoon. Get your nails done. Gossip with a friend. Wallow in an oil-scented bath at the end of a long day. Put the kids to bed and enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with your spouse.
Take your pleasures when and where you can. Because no matter how small and insignificant they seem, they will bring a smile to your face. And that smile could well light up your world.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, April 29
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