Eran Thomson, Smiling at Strangers, Smiles are infections, smiling is good for your health, health benefits of smiling

Smiling at Strangers

A few months ago I was snowboarding in Tahoe and felt a strange sensation on my face.

Was it the wind? Snow? Part of my jacket? Turns out it was my grin.

It had been so long since I smiled with joy and delight that when I finally felt one cross my face it was weird.

It shouldn’t be.

Look around and count how many joyful faces you see. (If you can find anyone who isn’t staring at a screen). Sadly, odds are the number is low.

It shouldn’t be.

Phones have so magnetized our attention that looking up from yours to see a stranger smiling at you can be a shock. Confusing even.

It shouldn’t be.

We are social animals. And by “social” I don’t mean likes, followers, or right swipes. I mean we are in-person, eye-to-eye, emotional connection makers. (And when appropriate, physical connections can be nice too.)

But instead, we smile more at ourselves in selfies than we do at other people.

It shouldn’t be.

We as a species are losing the art of the friendly smile.

So this morning on my walk I decided to try an experiment. I would smile at all the people I passed.

I could tell women were wondering if I was flirting. Men wondered too. Others looked away. Others returned it, but fleetingly. The whole thing was odd.

It shouldn’t be.

I tried a new strategy. Instead of smiling at people, I held a smile the whole time. Now anyone I passed saw a smiling person looking at them. Not a person smiling at them. A small but important difference.

People smiled back. It was less weird. And I noticed I felt happier, more joyful, and inspired to keep the smile on my face for as long as I could. But it was a challenge.

It shouldn’t be.

A smile is the simplest gesture of human recognition. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than “I see you.” We smile at babies with ease. But we smile at adults with discomfort. Smiles are socialized out of us as we grow up.

It shouldn’t be.

What if we could get back to a place where smiles from strangers were the norm? Expected even.

I invite you to give it a try. Smile at someone. Share a tiny bit of joy. Make a tiny connection. Maybe make someone’s day. Maybe even make your own day.

You might think something as simple as sharing an infectious smile with a stranger is too weird, too awkward, or too hard.

But it shouldn’t be.

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