The Power of a Smile

     At the end of 2015, I sat down and did what Americans tend to do - set New Year’s Resolutions. I tried to encapsulate the spectrum of my being - from the physical to the mental - and walked away with just over 30 goals. Slightly ambitious, I know. Particularly when you factor in the abysmal success rate most Americans face accomplishing a New Year’s Resolution - research from the University of Scranton claims that a higher percentage of people get accepted to Harvard than finish a New Year’s Resolution.

     Now that we’re closing out the better part of ⅙ of the year, I thought to do a quick check-in with myself and see where I stand in relation to my goals. Some I found myself cruising through - save 20% of every dollar made, read at least 10 pages a day - while others have hit some rough patches - floss every night, write everyday. But perhaps the most interesting question that arose from this personal check-in was that although all of these goals were beneficial, which ones had the greatest impact on me?

Which ones had the greatest impact on me?

     Since I already marathon TED talks faster than a Netflix-addict does House of Cards, my resolution to watch 1 TED talk a day, while beneficial to my mental well-being, wasn’t that impactful. When I tried to organize my laundry list of resolutions into order by impact, the most trivial of all floated to the top - say Good-Morning to at least one person every day.

     Ironically, it was this small gesture that I last attempted to complete - not until early February. On my walks home from the gym (have to go 3x a week!) to shower and change for class, I would try to smile and say Good-Morning to everyone I passed on the way down. Now this may seem extremely benign and a commonsense gesture, but in the brutal winters of upstate New York and particularly when dealing with college students at 8 am, it becomes an exception. Most college students are still half-conscious at that hour so I didn’t expect many - if any - responses, but oh how I was wrong!

     Miraculously I watched as the power of my words lit up the world around me. People broke their ground-focused stares and embraced the positive energy being genuinely radiated as I wished them a pleasant morning. During the first week of my mini-experiment, one girl stopped in her tracks and thanked me for acknowledging her existence, and that struck a chord. Armed with the sole power of a greeting, I was able to instantaneously change moods, sculpting the world around me with my words.

     It seems cliche to say that giving is more rewarding than receiving, but cliches are cliche for a reason. And nowadays we have research to back it up. Research from Michael Norton has found that universally, spending money on others rather than self results in higher happiness levels. So maybe today, instead of waiting for next New Years, start with a simple smile. Give someone a smile and perhaps receive the opportunity to impact someone’s day - if just for a moment.