Look Twice As Good in Half the Time
Decades ago on the Saturday Night Live TV show, Billy Crystal did an ongoing characterization smacking of actor Fernando Llamas, complete with faint Hispanic accent. This character always seemed to live in cocktail lounge booths and dark steakhouses, wore sunglasses and neck scarf under a dress jacket, and presented an “appearances first” aura. Dispensing self-absorbed advice, one of his oft-heard phrases was, “It is better to look good than to feel good – you know what I am saying to you?”
Having come from an era where a suit and tie was de rigueur (“prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom”) among career professionals, I won’t debate that care in appearance makes a big impact on perception by others. And, that need not be based on added accoutrements or bling. I remember once wandering into a drawing file room with another engineer to find an engineering intern slumped over a drawing file, asleep. He was a likable young guy who enjoyed late partying, and I was glad no manager had discovered him. He awoke in a fatigued but good-natured way, and while we spontaneously reviewed his previous entertainment choices, what instantly stood out to me like a spotlight on a stage was his shirt. Yes, his shirt! Just a white dress shirt, long-sleeved and buttoned down with a presentable necktie – like ours.
He was just an ordinary lookin’ Joe, but on that day he looked almost spectacularly better than us. Why? His white shirt was brilliant white, and instead of having been rumpled under a humid jacket for a long commute in, it billowed loosely out without a fold or crease anywhere. The collar was perfectly formed instead of being bowed in, and this guy could have stepped right into a photo shoot advertising that brand of dress shirt. What struck me was that we all had white shirts and ties on, but this intern clearly looked way better than we did. He himself may have looked a bit rumpled at the moment, but his overall appearance was great. In that moment, the absurdity of Fernando’s “It is better to look good than to feel good” came back to mind. Paying more attention to improving the condition and appearance of what you already have will trump adding more accessories to the mix.
Out here in RV land, it is clearly better to feel good than to look good. In the open desert, the dress standard is a sun-faded, ill-fitting T-shirt, faded and rumpled shorts, sunhat with sunglasses, sandals or sneakers, a tan, and slumped shoulders. There’s no one to impress, and no ladder of influence to climb any more. You dress for function. That’s good, because between the incredible dust, sweat, sporadic laundering, and lack of iron and ironing board, any clothing without a strong color will quickly rumple and yellow. It’s awful. Unfortunately, I can’t do the usual cool clothing combo unless I’m staying inside or by the trailer in the shade. It’s a combination of genetics and having spent my youth looking like a hazelnut from living outdoors all day, every day. Exposure to the sun was considered healthy. Then.
Damage done, I now venture out in old long-sleeved shirts from my career days (having button-down collars no less), blue jeans or slacks, comfortable shoes of some type or other, a sunhat, and sunglasses. And I still get a tan while I overheat. Anyway, I was wandering about the Imperial Dam LTVA area for my token exercise when another guy passing nearby said, “Wow! You must be the best-dressed guy in the entire camp!” Despite the severely rumpled and folded white shirt, I probably was. Had I access to a half-pound of Oxyclean, a gallon of bleach, a chunk of lye, strong detergent, soft water, a reliable washing machine, and an iron with a little starch, given the brilliance of the sun here, I’m sure my shirt would make all the women around Yuma sigh appreciatively. Much of my tan would come from my own shirt’s reflectance.
But even if I had the necessaries, I’m way, way too lazy for that. I’ve found a much easier and more effective way to drastically improve one’s looks. In technical terms, it’s called a smile. Not the momentary grimacing acknowledgement that passes for a greeting these days, but a genuinely pleased smile that seems to result from a reflection upon something good in this world. I’ve read that smiling is contagious among humans in kind of a DNA-inspired social conditioning way. That’s the greeting smile. That’s something else.
I’m talking here about the kind of smile that transmits a gratitude for being alive and able to experience this day and this very moment, or perhaps a reflection upon something that is positive, which bolsters the spirit with something that inspires hope. That silly little solar-powered gizmo I have that is imprinted with “Be Grateful, be Hopeful, be Inspired, be Yourself” is now broken from the rough treatment it received trying to stay aboard the Mighty Ford’s dashboard. But its message still works fine.
I’ve found that choosing any one of those four things to reflect on, shows. It kinda leaks out whether you intend it to or not. Other people walking by do more than the courteous smile in response. If you’re genuinely pleased at the time, it seems to hop on over to them, too. It’s almost like whatever’s behind the smile transfers over. If you’re feeling grateful or hopeful at the moment, you can actually watch it begin to flicker inside the eyes of a passerby. Then they smile, and it’s the kind of smile that will stick for awhile because they’re now doing what you’ve been doing, but as it applies to them.
I guess at it’s core, seeing a genuine, motivated smile that comes from within can be a reminder to reflect on the good of one’s life in some way. It’s a breaking out of the constancy of trouble and distraction, of pressure and tragedy and lists, to be reminded that we’re still here, still breathing, and that how we will choose to approach the rest of it is up to us, right now. The ability to appreciate moments and see opportunities breaking through problems can keep one’s soul alive. Even such a luminary as Jesus made it a point to advise against letting yourself get overwhelmed by playing “What If” with what He called “tomorrow’s troubles”. He wryly added that “today has enough trouble of its own.” True enough. When life appears to us to be nothing but trouble, that’s a clue that we’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong things, or most likely, thinking the wrong things. If nothing else, we need hope.
When there is hope, there is life. The same goes for a sense of gratitude, and of inspiration. And sometimes, the best thing you can do is to be yourself, regardless of others’ acceptance or disapproval. A few mistake that for a license to behave badly, but such perceptions are so far off the mark that explaining it here isn’t going to help. Choosing to be true to yourself despite impinging expectations and influences is a good thing. And it can be a helpful thing when others perceive you doing that. Sometimes, “go along to get along” is not the best choice. Neither is rebelliousness for it’s own sake.
Want to improve your looks by 100%? Smile. Want to smile? Be yourself, and build upon what is helpful. Consider what inspires you to rise above yourself, and pursue it. Be grateful for the helpful things and people in your life, and appreciate their good influences. Look past the problems and challenges to find strength in hope of resolution, or better. Lose that cultural teaching that you are a pointless biological accident destined for oblivion, and that nothing you or anyone else does or has done here has any lasting consequence or meaning. That’s a dogma better suited to serial killers.
Instead, imagine this: if your life mattered, and if there were no do-overs or Unchangeable Destinies, how would you want your life to be different, and what’s good about it now? What are the little tweaks and the big course corrections? Why? Is it good to currently still be breathing, to recall things to be grateful for, or to sense opportunity just moments ahead? Got just one realization or recollection? Now, smile.
I needed this today. Thanks.
You’re very welcome, Linda. I’m task and problem-oriented myself, so sometimes I write about what I do, not so much because I’ve got it nailed, but because it’s a foreign thing that I need to remind myself to do. It’s what’s percolating. I naturally take things for granted and forget that even breathing itself is a privilege! Just today, the supermarket cashier stalled for time as the register ground away and asked, “Are you having a good day today?” That surprised me, and reminded me just how good I have it – the ability to just go out and buy food. Good health, sunny day, transport…I had to say “Yes, very good thanks,” but I was thinking, “Actually, I am having an awesome day. Just awesome!”
Great blog. You’re right about the smile. I smile a lot.
Thank you, Michael.
What a nice blog to read today. You have a very nice style of writing that just draws me in and has me waiting to see where the story will go. I love to smile, it makes me feel happier. I also love having days that are awesome.
I’d like to say I suckered you in Debbie, but my way of thinking sometimes tends to wander from one topic to another that relates in some way. When I write some accounts, I keep thinking people will impatiently wonder when I’m going to get to the point! Thank YOU.
I’ve only recently found that smiling can work backwards, as you say. Ofttimes, when I smile, I then recall or realize something to appreciate. I’m reminded in some way of what a privilege life is.
It’s not the hat you wear, but the way you wear your hat.
Nice parallel, Dan!