Just smiling at people can make you as happy as receiving $25,000. For over a decade my mother and I went for regular early morning walks. During nice weather we’d walk outdoors and in winter we walked in a mall. In both places we encountered many other walkers and my mother never failed to smile at them or greet them, even when they were complete strangers.
She told me she learned this from her own father. My Mom grew up in a small farming community in Saskatchewan where everyone knew each other and it was common to greet people you met. But Mom noticed that even on family shopping trips to the large city of Saskatoon her father would nod and smile or say hello to strangers on the street. Often he engaged them in conversation.
In 2006 my husband Dave and I sponsored a refugee family from Rwanda. They lived with us for their first few months in Canada. Our guests would routinely comment at the supper table how surprised they’d been as they walked through the streets during the day, to have people wave at them, smile at them, nod or greet them. This was not something they were used to.
I’m currently writing a religious education curriculum and one assigned passage is Matthew 5:47. “And if you only greet your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus clearly encourages his followers to greet people especially strangers.
In Islam acknowledging others by smiling at them is a form of charity for which the giver is rewarded. I lived in Asia for six years and noticed that images of Buddha frequently portrayed him as having a gentle smile of greeting. Traveling in countries with a largely Hindu population I learned the way to acknowledge strangers is with the word Namaste. It means, “I bow to the divine in you.” As you say it you place both palms together, fingers pointing upward and bow slightly.
Acknowledging those you meet isn’t only of spiritual value there is plenty of scientific research to prove that smiling or greeting people has a positive physical and emotional impact on both them and you.
In a 2011 TED Talk Ron Gutman references a British study that used MRI technology to discover that smiling stimulates our brains in the same way as finding $25,000 in cash. A team of German researchers concluded that when you smile at people you meet for the first time it makes them perceive you to be a few years younger than you actually are.
Research has found teens that smiled for their school yearbook picture not only had happier lives as adults, but also lived on average seven years longer than teens that didn’t smile for their picture. A psychologist who did an experiment at the University of Chicago wrote that when we recognize another person as part of the human family with any kind of greeting, we are increasing their joy and ours, and doing something important to promote peace in the world.
Angela Maiers is a schoolteacher who always asks all her students on the first day of school to write down the most important things they are looking for in a teacher. After 20 years of doing this she compiled a top ten list of student suggestions. Number one was “Greet me each morning.” Number 2 was “Smile at me.”
Smiling and saying hello are such simple things but they are important and are proven to make us all richer and happier.