Make A Difference in Someone’s Life – Just Smile!

My favorite interactions throughout the day are the five-minute conversations with people I’ve never met before or encounter briefly on a daily basis. It may be the guy filling up his car at the gas station next to mine who asked me about my day, the young couple on the train that suggested books for me to read, the barista at Starbucks that knows my order before I step up to the counter and offered to pay the difference when I was short in change, or the boy in my Florida lodge lounge who liked my Beatles t-shirt and ended up becoming a long-distance close friend.

I also love to wave at people, especially people I don’t know. I will stand on a train platform and wave at everyone inside the train as it pulls away. I will stand on a street corner and randomly wave to a person driving by. I walk by restaurants and wave to a person sitting by the window. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. Sometimes they look at me as if I’m hyped up on drugs, and sometimes they look surprised or happy and wave back! Once, a couple close friends and I stood on the Jackson Street bridge in downtown Chicago and waved at all the people stuck in rush hour traffic on the expressway below us. Many people looked up, smiled, and waved back. I was glad we were able to provide a little sunshine in their rough, slow commute. I was in high spirits the rest of the day.

I love these experiences and I really enjoy hearing about them from my friends.

The only problem is, these encounters don’t happen as much as they should.

We tend to ignore unknown faces around us because we are too focused on ourselves.

Our eyes are fixated on the screens of our phones, the signs on the wall, or straight ahead to our destination without making eye contact with the people immediately near us. We are all guilty of this. We don’t notice the sad eyes and smiles in line next to us. We overlook the lonely man in the corner. A quiet foreigner behind you remains ignored. Even when we purchase something, we often ignore the cashier and the exchange is mechanical rather than human.

Put the phone away. Turn it on ‘silent.’ Keep your head up.

Smile and say hello to the next stranger you meet.

Acknowledge their presence.

Ask them how they are.

You have no idea where the conversation may lead. It can influence you, and them, more than you think.

You never know. That group of grungy-looking backpackers eating lunch on the other end of the room may end up being a famous progressive metal band (yes, this happened to a friend of mine). Or maybe that student sitting by the window just needs a little extra attention during a lonely day.

But don’t just stop with one chance meeting.

Do it again with the next person you see.

Make it a habit.

Start now.



4 thoughts on “Make A Difference in Someone’s Life – Just Smile!

    1. It’s also important to keep in mind that turning a person’s day from good to bad is just as easy and we need to watch what we say and do…

  1. Last year, I was on a vacation in Boston visiting a close friend from college and my aunt and uncle who also lives in the area. On the last day, I had to fly back home and was really bummed about it because I felt that the visit was so short. I spent the most of my flight back being sad about how I had to leave the East Coast again, but I got over it when I was in Dallas/Fort Worth for a layover where I met two brothers who became my long-distance friends.

    I was boarding on the plane for Phoenix and got to my seat. My seat was near the window and I was about to drift off to sleep until I heard a sobbing. I woke up and look to the person sitting next to me. It turns out to be a guy in his mid-thirty and he wouldn’t stop crying. The guy in the next seat was trying to comfort him. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but from what I could sense in their voices, they sound really miserable. I was sitting there in my seat, wasn’t sure what to do and didn’t want to be rude by just keep looking over for every time the guy broke down into tears. Also, it didn’t really help any that he was also had too much to drink and I didn’t want to endure the uneasiness tension for the next 4-something hours.

    I asked if he was okay. He said he will be fine and that he was just sad about his little brother. It turns out that few days earlier; his younger brother had committed suicide. They were telling me stories about what a wonderful man he was. My heart ache so much as they were telling me everything from who he was and showed me the family pictures and how they need to transport the body back to Texas. My heart even aches more when he told me how it’s hard to look at his brother sometimes because he looks so much like the one that was killed. It turns out that the brother that was trying to console him was a twin. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to deal with that for the rest of my life.

    We landed into Phoenix and while we were waiting for the people in the front of us to get their stuff from overhead compartment, he was telling me that he was grateful that he got to sit next to a nice person like me and heard him out. It meant world to him and he’s forever grateful for that. For the first time, I got to see him smile.

    I gave him a hug and then gave him my e-mail and told him he can reach me anytime day and night if he needs a friend to talk to. Few days later, I sent a beautiful flower arrangement to his brother’s memorial service.

    An act of kindness does really go a long way. 🙂

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