I came across the following writing prompt: She gained all the wealth in the world, but she could never smile again.
It's one of those prompts that made me pause. What if I couldn't smile? Is there any material thing for which I would give up my smile?
It's easy enough to think about in the form of a story. A magical fairy or genie comes to someone and offers her immense wealth. And the price is a little trivial thing hardly even worth mentioning.
The fairy averts the main character's gaze and throws a few sparkles into the air. "You won't be able to smile again," she whispers under her breath, trying to make it verbal fine print.
Despite the subtle warning, the protagonist inevitably chooses the wealth. The story that follows shows her progression from temporary happiness to utter misery, all because she did not see the value of the simple and wonderful things she already had.
Side note: I'd like to write a story where the hero is just this character that is constantly tempted by wishes from magical beings, always says no, and ends up having a great life because he didn't accept the supposed "magical solution to all his problems."
What is the point of good things if you can't enjoy them? How could you genuinely enjoy immeasurable wealth if you were incapable of smiling or otherwise expressing happiness? I think of the end of the story. And it ends with a question: Was it worth it?
And it leads me to a more profound question: What do I sacrifice for the things that don't matter?
Because everything is a trade-off. Even what is free to us costs someone else something.
I turn to my phone at the social gathering because it's much easier to look down at the screen that interact with other people. But I miss the good conversations that could have happened. The opportunities to deepen friendships are lost.
I think of the time I waste scrolling when I could be doing something that sharpens my intellect and allows me to gain further knowledge. And if I were to look at the weekly screen time reports, I would probably be disgusted.
The time we trade because it's easy. But is it worth it?
The rant is easy to say. The unkind words that fill Facebook and Twitter give us instant gratification. But we lose our opportunity to understand, listen to and respect others. And often, we lose the chance to speak the truth.
The moments that I spend complaining, trading the opportunity to be grateful. The sharp response when I'm angry with someone that I trade for the chance to be kind. The times I spend worrying rather than taking the time to rest in peace.
Is it worth it? And the deeper question still: Why do I do it? Why do I trade the things that matter for the things that don't?
Why do we trade our smiles?
We trade our smiles for what we think will make us happy.
The truth is, I do these trade-offs because I think they'll make me happy. I think they'll satisfy me. It's the easiest thing for me. It's the path of least resistance. It's self-focused and self-absorbed. Me. Me. Me. I become wrapped up in who I am and who I think I'm supposed to be.
And I get caught in a cycle of self-worship or self-deprecation. Because whether I'm praising or punishing myself, my attention is still on me and what I think is best.
Because I think I know what's best, and I think I know what will make me happy. But, will it? It's paradoxical, but when I chase what I want and keep and my attention focused on myself, I become more dissatisfied and miserable.
Why must so many aspects of life be wrapped up in paradoxes? Chase happiness, and you will not find it. Become wholly focused on yourself, and you will become miserable. But what is the alternative?
The alternative is not being cruel to yourself. It is not putting yourself down or not taking care of yourself. The opposite is to shift your focus. And this shift can make all the difference in the world.
If my only goal is to stop focusing on myself, the void will never be filled. I must replace this self-absorption with the correct mindset. I must stop looking inward and look up and out instead. When I do this, the joy I seek turns up when I least expect it. And oddly enough, rather than lose my sense of self, I become a more authentic version of myself. I feel more at peace in who I am. And I can get back to the treasures that genuinely matter rather than chase the wealth that the world gives.
This is the beautiful paradox. It's hard. And sometimes, it doesn't make sense. But something doesn't have to make complete sense for it to be true.
So, don't trade your smile. Don't trade what matters for what doesn't. Look up and out. Merry Christmas!
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About the Creator
Passionate writer that is enthusiastic about writing engaging, compelling content. Excels in breaking down complex concepts into simple terms and connecting with readers through sharing stories and personal experience.