How to Change a Life in Five Words or Less

Charlie Jones and friend, smiling.

This past week I interviewed a Regional Manager at a large fitness chain as part of the field testing for my doctoral research. My questions focus on what brings out the best in employees and gets them excited about their work. When I asked my participant what motivated him in his current role he responded that he could impact a person's life with a single "Hello" and a "Goodbye." Wow, how many of us understand the power of a single word spoken at a specific time.

For those of us who attend worship services where they tell you to take a moment and turn and greet someone around you, you know what I’m talking about. The pastor doesn’t do this to irritate the germaphobes and introverts; it’s done to encourage community. That’s what words are supposed to do, encourage positive interaction. Yet so often we think we must have all the right things to say before paying attention to another human being that comes into our space or field of vision.

My father, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, had five words he would share with everyone he passed: “Thank you for your smile.” As a teenager, it drove me crazy; as an adult, I began understanding the power of what he was doing. When asked what he'd do if someone wasn't smiling, he remarked they'd often give him a smile because they didn’t want to cheat him out of something he thanked them for. How tremendous is that?

When I conduct monthly prison book club discussions and walk through the yards at the state correction institutions en route to my classroom, I make a conscientious effort to look every man in the eye, smile, and greet him or ask how he is doing. Nonsense? Dangerous? Pointless? None of the above. There’s nothing like walking through a prison yard that makes you aware of just how fragile and near the edge some of the souls are that come into our orbit.

One word, two words, or a smile, can perhaps stop someone from ending their life when they get to their cell that night, prevent them from beating up their co-worker because they are so angry with the world, discourage them from not reaching out to other inmates because they feel so alone and hopeless.

Here’s a list of five words or less that can change a person’s life. What are some of yours? Try to sprinkle these words across every single interaction you have this week and watch something tremendous happen.

  • Thank you for your smile!
  • How can I help you?
  • You did a great job!
  • Thank you for your efforts.
  • Nice to see you.
  • How are you doing?
  • What can I do?
  • I’m here for you.
  • Can I help you?
  • You can do it!
  • I am sorry.
  • Please forgive me.
  • I love you.
  • Are you okay?
  • I forgive you.
  • You inspire me.
  • I appreciate you.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • You’re welcome.
  • It’s okay.
  • I care.
  • After you.
  • Awesome!
    Charlie "tremendous" jonesEncourageEncouragementGrowthKindnessLeadershipLifeMotivationMotivation from withinPersonal growthSmileTracey jonesTremendousTremendous leadershipTremendous tracey


    Marcia Sinkovitz

    Marcia Sinkovitz

    Helping to build self-awareness and self-esteem is also why we give ample time to our inmates in their classrooms for expression whether it is exploring a book and discussing it or co-facilitating a book club or applying a new life/social skill to their daily lives. Any little bit of encouragement goes a long way! I once recognized an only inmate stand during a song service, and asked him “where did you learn this?” Yesterday he told me he was going home and he profusely thanked me for recognizing that one small step he had taken in church! He felt recognized.



    I smile works wonders – I have been asked how I can be so happy all the time. I’m not. But I make a conscious effort every day to look at the world as a blessing from God and the only way to make it better is to be “nice” to everyone you meet. The lady at the checkout counter is grumpy – instead of replying in the same way, I say something nice to her and it works to change her day – just one nice word and a smile.
    I’ve also been told that I am “too nice”. Well, I don’t think you can ever be “too nice”. If people were just “nicer” a lot of our problems would settle down and people could get along.



    A smile is def. a good weapon for us with people we have never met. I will use the word Hello when I went to inspire someone. We are reminded in the New Testament to be careful when dealing with strangers because by doing so, some people have entertained angles without knowing it.

    A couple weeks ago, my director was trying to rearrange a confrence room at my building. This room can barley fit fifty people comfortably and he said there are about seventy people coming in at the end of Jan. for a meeting. The way he was trying to set the tables up in the room, you could only use one side of the tables. I brought up the idea of rearranging all the tables so people could sit at both sides of the tables. This helped to conserve space. The director thought I just saved the world, when all I did was make a common sense suggestion

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