By Dr. Cindy McGovern 

 Two weeks to the day after my good friend got her second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, she masked up and headed to a salon for a haircut and a pedicure. During the pandemic, her hair had grown longer than it had since she was a teenager. And she hadn’t indulged in a pedi for a year and a half. 

She left that salon smiling uncontrollably. As she showed off her lavender toenails, something hit me: After a year-plus of solitude and sacrifice, we might actually have to look for opportunities to smile. 

Even if you were lucky enough to keep your job and avoid getting sick, chances are good that you still had to give up most of the fun that used to sneak itself into the day: a private joke with a co-worker, a little gift you picked up at the mall to surprise your roommate or spouse, a challenge you might have participated in if your gym had been open. 

So you got used to doing without jokes and surprises and challenges. As a result, now that we’re inching our way back out there, we might have to be intentional about creating opportunities to enjoy being at work, to share good news—face-to-face—with co-workers and friends, and to express joy in the way that we can only do when we’re surrounded by people to share it. 

That’s because what once happened naturally might not feel so natural after 15 months away from it. 

So make smiling and having fun a project. Make time to plan for it. Look for opportunities to engage in it. Figure out who can help you make your project a success. Ask those people to share in the fun. And then feel the joy. Feel the gratitude that really should be washing over everyone who made it to the other side of the pandemic. Feel how it feels to smile uncontrollably. 

Start at work 

It may sound counterintuitive, but a great place to start Project Fun is at work. Here are eight ways to recharge your smile and get the whole staff in on it: 

  • One law firm installed a cow bell in the office, sort of like the ones in bars that bartenders ring when a customer leaves a good tip. At this law firm, anyone can ring it to recognize a co-worker who has gone above and beyond to help a client, has gotten a good review on Yelp or has otherwise excelled beyond the usual. The more the bell gets rung, the harder everyone works so they’ll have a reason to ring it. Even clients have started ringing it when they visit the office. 
  • A realtor who used to meet person-to-person with each homeowner to give status reports about the sale or purchase of a home started sending fun videos instead during the pandemic as a safety measure. The star of the videos is the realtor, who always shares some fun personal info and reminds the clients that she can’t wait to meet them in person. 
  • One company encouraged everyone to dress up as a favorite superhero on April 28, which is National Superhero Day. They shared why those particular heroes are their role models. A fun twist: How about passing notes to your role models at work, explaining why they are superheroes in your eyes? 
  • Lots of companies designate a Pajama Day and let everyone work in their PJs in the office. Even though some people work every day from home in their PJs—but get dressed for business meetings via Zoom—some of those businesses encouraged the staff to wear their pajamas to staff meetings, too, just for fun. 
  • Arrange a lunch with a handful of work friends—either in person or virtually—with an agenda. Once everyone’s together, log onto a free astrology chart maker and find out whether your sun, moon and planet positions align with any of your friends’. You can even talk about how what’s on the chart shows up for you at work. 
  • Fashion a trophy out of something from work, like a stuffed animal representing your company’s mascot or a silly reminder of something you and your co-workers have in common—like a jar full of chocolate. Whoever has the trophy may award it to a colleague as a shout-out for being helpful. Or you can give it to someone who’s having a rough day and needs something to smile about. 
  • Ask your teammates to write their names on scraps of paper along with a fun personal fact about themselves that nobody else knows. Pull one name and post the fun fact on a bulletin board—without the name—and have the rest of the team guess who it belongs to. Reveal the person at the next staff meeting and encourage people to write compliments about him or her on sticky notes to post on the bulletin board, too. 
  • Ask everyone to participate in a thank-you letter campaign. Once a month, each person hand-writes and mails a thank-you note to a colleague naming something specific the person did that deserves praise. 

Studies show that when you smile, it can boost your mood, make you feel happy, ward off stress and even prompt others to smile back. What better “welcome back” gift could you give to the people who spend most of your waking hours with every day?