We live in a region where its residents are known for being “cold” to outsiders even when the temperature is warm. I’ll never forget an experience I had 10 years ago. Back then, I had recently returned home from my two-month stay in the hospital recovering from my spinal cord injury. I was out in public for the first time. As I rolled along the sidewalk in downtown Hingham, I noticed that everyone looked away as I approached them in my wheelchair. It was like making eye contact would somehow be embarrassing or injure me. Was I that fragile that people needed to look elsewhere?
I decided to try something different the next time in public. As I would approach people, I’d look them in the eye and smile. No words, just a smile. The result was surprising. Passersby smiled back and maintained eye contact. Some would even say, “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” Think about it – two strangers smiling and making eye contact in New England. What a new experience. I’ve continued my practice of smiling with consistent results. My able-bodied wife even tried. Yes, if you direct a smile to someone, they usually will smile back.
I did a little research on smiling. Smiling is something that is understood by everyone across cultures, races, religions and gender; it is internationally known. A smile sends a signal of self-confidence and happiness. When you smile, you become likable and approachable. People who tend to smile produce what is called “the positive effect” which correlates with greater trust and increased cooperation. Think about when you are stressed or upset. When someone smiles at you, don’t you tend to feel a little better? All of this from a simple smile.
The closing lyrics for the song “Smile” composed by Charlie Chaplin might summarize it best:
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
Maybe if everyone just smiled a little more, the world might be a friendlier place. Give it a try. You might be surprised by the response.