By Fred Kusch  

“By smiling you show love, and you can inspire and awaken the hearts of others.” — Grandma Kusch, circa 1956

What makes people smile, and why do they smile? I have observed and asked people ages 3 to 93 for their answers to my query. I have compared their answers with my own, and no matter the age, where they live or what causes them to break out in a grin, the answers are pretty much the same. I started out with the “why.” I found that life’s little pleasures are at the core of why we smile. Best of all, those little pleasures are everywhere all the time. Unfortunately, we often forget that these moments and experiences are just waiting for us to notice and appreciate them.

Over the years, I’ve known people who are afflicted with what appears to be a crab permanently affixed to their face; nothing seems to elicit even the smallest of smiles. If they are fortunate enough to have the crab surgically removed, they often end up with what my sister-in-law refers to as “an unfortunate face.” These are the folks who not only frighten little children, but also cause puppies, kittens and bunny rabbits to quake. They need to develop a smile—right now! Life is too short to wear a perpetual crabby face. 

What is it that makes people smile? First is the realization that life is too short to waste it being unappreciative, sullen or cranky. To jump-start the list, allow me to share this great quote from a 12-year-old boy:

“A smile is like tight underwear—it makes your cheeks go up.” — Author unknown

I challenge you to circle the “little pleasures” that resonate with you from the list that follows. Then sit back and ask yourself why these moments make you smile: nice people, ice cream, the memory of your mother’s freshly baked bread, a cup of hot cocoa to warm up after time spent playing in the snow, puppies, acts of generosity and kindness, Harry Caray and the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field, grandpa’s big belly laugh, lying on your back in a meadow watching clouds go by, a walk on the beach with a special someone, children laughing, catching fireflies, receiving a handwritten note, sharing a nice bottle of wine with friends, starry nights, listening to Don McLean sing American Pie, a good cup of morning coffee, sitting on grandma’s lap, family dinners, singing with folks in the car, dancing with your mom, sharing stories, holding hands, Fourth of July fireworks and Christmas morning. What similar catalysts to a smile can you add? 

It is interesting to me that the word “appreciation” cropped up in many conversations about what makes people smile. Smiles create a connection between human beings, regardless of the origin or source. Even little kids expressed this in their own words. 

So, what makes you smile? Are you smiling enough? Do you hang out with people who make you smile? Remember that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. How do you want to spend your life? I know that when my time comes, I want to go with a smile on my face. 

“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection …” — Leonardo da Vinci

Fred Kusch, president and CEO of JFK Associates, is a well-known speaker, author, consultant and business coach. For more information, visit