The people from the Northeast have a reputation for being fast-paced and preoccupied with getting from here to there. They often walk with their minds multiprocessing and seldom pause to offer a “good morning.” I used to be one of those people.
I’ll never forget an experience I had 16 years ago. I had recently returned home from my two-month stay in the hospital recovering from a 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 embarrass or injure me. Was I so fragile that people needed to look elsewhere?
I decided to try something new the next time I went out in public. As I approached 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 even said, “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” Think about it—two strangers smiling and making eye contact in New England—what a novel experience! I’ve continued my practice of smiling with consistent results. My able-bodied wife even tried it and sure enough, if you direct a smile to someone, the person will usually smile back.
I did a little research on smiling. Smiling is something that’s understood across cultures, races, religions, and genders. It’s internationally recognized as a welcoming signal of self-confidence and happiness. When someone smiles, the person become likable and approachable. People who smile can produce a positive effect on others, which correlates with greater trust. Think about times when you’re stressed or upset. If someone were to smile at you, wouldn’t you start to feel a little better? All from a simple smile. If everyone smiled more, the world would be a friendlier place. Give it a try. You might be surprised by the response.
Pushing Your Thinking