A Lesson From The Mailman

One month ago, I started out my blog with a personal challenge. The challenge was to consciously make at least one person smile each day for the next 100 days. In order to stay on top of this, I set a daily reminder on my phone, so I wouldn’t forget.

Every time I open my phone, I get reminded of my priorities.

I was very excited about it, but originally assumed that this challenge would only be fun for the first week or so, and at a certain point it would become a chore, and lose its excitement (Like the A-Z challenge unfortunately). On the contrary, I am glad to say that I have been consistently on track with this goal, and not only has it not become a chore, but it has become a very enjoyable habit. I have even noticed several changes in my mindset, and overall levels of happiness over the course of this experiment. 

As I discussed in my first post, getting people to smile is really, really easy. Most of the time, it’s as easy as smiling, and saying to someone, “Hey man, smile!” These are obviously not the most rewarding smiles, but they can help you reach your quota of one smile per day, very effectively. My most rewarding smiles have come from acts of random kindness that I have done for people. Some of these were helping someone lift a heavy washing machine into a van, sharing a piece of candy with a stranger on the bus, and staying behind to help clean up after an event, but the best ones by far are smiles from kids.  

When I was a kid, we used to put on lemonade stands all the time in the summer. We had these huge cups that could fit a plastic lid so that people wouldn’t spill while driving, always ice cold, served with a straw, and at the bargain price of only fifty cents! One time, a couple hours into running the stand, we still hadn’t made any sales, and decided that instead of everybody wasting their precious time standing outside at the stand while nobody was visiting, we would take shifts where one person would be at the stand, and everybody else could watch cartoons inside. Mine was the first shift, and about 25 minutes in, I noticed the mailman down the block, making his way from his van to each house, and then back to his van again to fetch the next house’s mail. It was already a boiling hot day, and he was running back and forth at each house, never really sitting down to catch his breath, so he was sweating bullets. He was this big black guy, twice my height, definitely able to take down any of my friend’s dads, and I was this skinny little white kid, but since I was selling him lemonade, and not in a wrestling match, I approached him confidently, and said in my cute eight year old voice, “Excuse me mister, would you like to buy a cup of lemonade for fifty cents?” He opened his wallet, frowned, and looked back at me, “Got change for a twenty?” I didn’t, and he realized it when he saw my face go from ecstatic to nervous as I was recounting our grand total of zero sales for the day. Without much hesitation, he pulled out the bill, and said, “You know what kid, keep the change, but this better be a damned good glass of lemonade!” I took the bill, bolted back to my stand, filled him up a tall glass of our finest Vernon street drink, and ran back as quickly as I could, being careful not to spill any on the way. He downed the whole glass in about 10 seconds, so I took his cup back and immediately brought him a new one. He seemed happy, and I was ecstatic, so when he continued on, I bolted inside to tell my siblings of my great business success. Another one or two sales like this and we’d be retiring early! 

While I remember this frequently, and will probably remember this moment for the rest of my life, I never really considered very much how it affected the mailman, at least not until now. At first I didn’t think about him at all, just about my crisp new friend, Andrew Jackson. Later, I would think back on the incident logically and understand that he clearly got pretty screwed over, twenty bucks for a cup of lemonade is a really bad deal after all… Eventually I settled with the idea that since he was an adult, twenty dollars wasn’t really all that much for him, and that’s why he was ok with the purchase. It wasn’t until relatively recently that it occurred to me that maybe he got as much satisfaction, or even more, out of the transaction than I did. While I got the satisfaction of making $20 in one sale, he got the satisfaction of making a kids day, week, and even life. $20 to be remembered by someone for the rest of their life? When you think about it like that, suddenly $20 sounds like a steal of a deal!

Maybe it is because of this exact incident thirteen years ago that for me making kids smile today is so rewarding. My best smile from a kid happened a week ago. I was meeting someone for the first time, and in an effort to be goofy and make them laugh, I showed up in a colorful bright Hawaiian “lei.” I got the effect I was hoping for, but after a short while of it making scratchy noises and blowing in my face, I decided that the lei was more effort than it was worth, so it was time to ditch it. As we were walking, I saw a 5 year old girl sitting alone at a table eating ice cream. She looked pretty bored, and I figured this was my best opportunity. As we were passing her, I took a step in her direction, and said to her in Hebrew, “I’ve got something special for you.” I then placed the lei around her neck, I saw her lips start to crinkle into a smile, and I continued to walk as if nothing happened. Already at this point, I felt extremely satisfied with myself, but when I curiously peeked back at the girl again, and saw how her entire face had lit up, and that she had jumped out of her seat to go show her mom, that’s when I felt like I really did something awesome. I doubt this girl will remember me for the rest of her life, I don’t even know if she still remembers me now, a week later, but I remember her, because making her smile made a big impact on me! I wonder if the mailman still remembers me. If you’re out there reading this, Mr. Mail Man, you’re awesome, thank you!

Thanks for reading!


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