Ways of Seeing, Nichols: A kind wish can make a person’s day

Many times during the week, your transactions may be punctuated with: Have a great day! (Move on! There’s a line behind you.) This cliché has crept into our language, replacing “thank you for shopping with us” or “good afternoon.” Where did this phrase come from? According to Wikipedia, in the 1970s, the American supermarket chain Kmart opened a store in Brisbane, Australia. The workers were trained to say, “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart. Have a nice day.”
There are times that I hear this, usually at the grocery store on my way home from work, when the day is almost over. So, it means nothing. When I am not having a good day at all, I do not find it helpful to hear these words. And, I imagine that it is not pleasurable for the people who have to say that to every customer during their entire shift. Perhaps they would prefer to say, thank you. Or, thank you for dining with us, shopping with us, flying with us …
In fact, I’ve had to bite my tongue and remind myself that this person is trained to use this cliché, so, even if I barely have the energy to lift the corners of my mouth into a smile, I want to respond with respect. Thich Nhat Hanh claims that a smile releases endorphins in your brain. I try to say, “you too.” At the very least: “thank you.”
Carol Swiderski of the Chicago Tribune writes that although saying “have a nice day” may not be sincere … “have we become so analytic that we can’t accept these little niceties without asking ourselves, ‘Did he really mean it? Does she really care if I have a nice day?’” She encourages people to respond to “have a nice day” with “you have a nice day, too” because she hopes that when a sufficient number of people do this, there could be a time when people will sincerely intend it.
Recently at the Middlebury Natural Food Co-op, the person who checked out my groceries looked me in the eyes and said, “I hope your day goes well.” It was so refreshing that I thanked her for not wishing me a great day. We’ve been discussing this, she said. There are many events that come along to challenge our days. No matter how my day is going, to have someone wish that it goes well is comforting.
In the grocery store or the bank or post office, perhaps “hello” and a smile would suffice or “may I help you?” There’s always “good morning” or “good afternoon.” A simple “thank you” works for me. And, I am happy to reply, “you’re welcome.” Sometimes I say to a sales person, “thank you for helping me.” There is no sincere way to repeat, “have a nice day” over and over again, day after day. Faking cheerfulness and suppressing feelings can cause people to feel insincere and phony. It must be exhausting.
No one can say whether the day will be “good” or “bad” and we cannot know whether it will be good or bad, perhaps until it is long past. Either way, we are blessed to have a day.
I wish that each of us could feel blessed every day, that we could wake thankful for the new day, that we could remember to say thank you for this moment, this fresh new day. But sometimes we are not feeling blessed, we are not waking thankful to face a new day (maybe we have tossed and turned), we are anxious in the moment.
“Have a great day” leaves me to wonder, what would a great day look like?  Millions of people in the world who are suffering deserve a great day. A great day would bring to families food, water, shelter, medicine, safety, livelihood, beauty, and freedom from conflict, anxiety and disease.
My own recipe is simple: being outside on an October day when the sun is warm and the cloudless sky is deep blue, the air is crisp, and the temperature warms up to 70 degrees with barely a breeze. Add friends or family and we’re all healthy and safe. We are celebrating with good food and conversation. We might be near water or not. We could be in the States, in the Asia Pacific, Turkey, Sweden or Scotland. Making a memory.
Johanna Nichols is a grandmother, mother, wife and friend who ponders how to live a meaningful life and who enjoys writing. She hosts a new blog at goosebumpsinmiddlebury.wordpress.com

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