At first glance, no one would mistake Mike working the counter at the east side Kum & Go at 2110 Guthrie Ave just off I-235, for Jerry Lewis, Larry The Cable Guy, assorted members of Congress or Triumph The Insult Comic Dog.
He's just Mike - Mike, for us to poop on. (Miss the joke? Probably better skip a few paragraphs - maybe pick it back up with "And the unimaginable power of...")
For both of you still here - most of all, he's just Mike the Kum & Go guy.
That's the sum of the parts of the whole Mike that I, and now you, both of you, know.
Mike works at Kum & Go, he's probably in his 20's and he was funny for about two minutes, last Saturday afternoon.
And the unimaginable power of...Hi! Welcome back!...those simple 120 seconds, has now permanently altered the landscape of a thousand human souls.
First, a quick glance at the research that says I'm right and that the above sentence isn't ridiculous.
Results from two dozen University studies - UCLA, Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Hamburger University at Oak Brook - suggest that happiness is as transferable as an iron-on, cooties or cold feet upon a previously warm backside.
M. Farouk Radwan, a human behavior expert, gives it to us straight when he says that humans "usually absorb some of the emotions of the person we are watching or listening to and then experience a change in our own mood even though nothing happened to us."
Right as rain, M.
Yet the key here is "the emotions of the person we are watching." In other words, that person is feeling how they're feeling, which is about them - but somebody who happens to be in the vicinity of their outward expression of feeling, can also get a little sompin-sompin, too.
What do we all do when we see a baby smile? We smile. That's transference. The kid doesn't know it, doesn't care - he just wants changed.
"Happy hops from head to head
'cept when a frown does make it dead
til one more happy thing is said,
then happy hops from head to head."
Which is what happened Saturday at Kum & Go - lots of happy head hoppin.
Mike's greeting at the K&G counter - "Is this it?" (ow, my head) -harbingered nothing so life-altering that I'd be babblin about it three days yonder hence.
Yep. Just the caffeine-free diet Pepsi, young whipper-snaper.
I obliged him - by pulling two large handfuls of pennies from my pockets and dropping them on the waist-high red formica surface like slime dumped on contestants of Nickelodeon's Figure It Out...
See, here's the problem.
It's really embarrassing for a middle-aged man to be forced to scrounge up all the loose change he can track down in-between sofa cushions and car seats like he's in his 20's again living in a college dorm room at UNI, because he can't find his ATM card and never carries cash but just has to have a soda in the next 16 seconds or that man will surely die!!!
Six, in-a-hurry-and-that's-why-we're-shoppin-at-a-convenience-store, dummy! patrons were behind me and my five pounds of copper. A man, 20 years my junior and with his whole living-off-his-parents-til-he's-30 life ahead of him, was in front of me.
Change was flying off the table and didn't care.
"Uh...hey, I'm sorry," I stammered, "I feel like I had to break my piggy bank, like some dumb desperate 20-year-old loser."
I smartly said to the 20-year-old.
I jumped to save coins from tumbling to the floor with one hand, and began miscounting the pennies by twos, with the other, while the guy I'd just punched in the face, looked on.
Silence, 'cept the sound of sliding coins, and the shame in my voice.
"...forty-two, forty-four, forty-six..."
"You mean, dumb like me?" said the bemused Mike, whose smile I was too busy counting change to see.
"Dollar forty five...forty six...forty seven.......uh...."
The counting stopped - typical, when the coins run out.
At that point I was in prison.
I'd taken two minutes to scatter and count out $1.47 for a $1.73 bottle of caffeine-free diet Pepsi - in convenience store time, two minutes is six days. And now I was short.
Any of you ticked-off patrons behind me wanna lend me a quarter, or should I ask the 20-year-old loser?
See, Mike could have went a lot of ways here - with the growing line of impatient patrons and the growing pile of pennies and the growing-more-absurd-looking-by-the-minute insult specialist at the counter.
Instead, from the peripheral vision of my bent-over perch, I glanced up in time to see Mike reach into his pocket, pull something from it that I prayed was not a bat, and toss it on the table.
"Let's call it even, old man."
Three shiny nickels stood out on the mound o' pennies.
Holy Thomas Jefferson. He just paid it forward - for real.
Not only was this kid making up my Kum & Go Debt with his own jack, he was letting me off the financial hook entirely. Did Kyle Krause know this?
I leaned up at the waist - to see the beautiful, beaming smile of my banker.
Mike began to laugh. I joined him.
"Hey man...thanks a lot, you saved my [embarrassment]"
"No problem," Mike chuckled, "Have a great day."
And so I have - every day since then.
The lesson that Mike reminded me about - deceptively simple, yet of magnitude 8.0 on the emotional Richter Scale - is that happy is as happy does, and the tremors emanating out from our own happiness, can shake the ground of others in close proximity.
A Harvard study from 2008, showed this clearly.
"The study of more than 4,700 people who were followed over 20 years found that people who are happy or become happy boost the chances that someone they know will be happy. The power of happiness, moreover, can span another degree of separation, elevating the mood of that person's husband, wife, brother, sister, friend or next-door neighbor."
Or convenience store customer.
Hire happy. Train skills.
Mike's clearly a happy guy. I'm a happy guy, too. And Mike being willing to spend some of his happiness currency on me, filled up my happy wallet, and has made me happier and more willing to spend my new-found happy money on others.
Like you, kind reader - with this story.
And hopefully, the 73 people I've engaged and spread my Mike-powered happiness to, since, and the 73 people who each of those 73 people have talked to since me, are happier as well.
Do the math, and imagine the possibilities - of the story with a little change, that changed the world and gave it a happy ending.
Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show," Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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