It was a sunny fall day, so I went for a run at Gateway Park. When I run, I like to give folks a half smile and a little wave when I pass them. I get something similar in return or the opposite, a diversion of eyes with no engagement.
On this crisp day, I received the biggest smile from a woman who was walking towards me with her friend. It was one of those smiles you give a friend you haven’t seen in a while. It was filled with so much warmth and openness I couldn’t help but grin back as I ran past. That silly, happy grin stayed with me for the rest of my run. Since then, it has me reflecting on how two seconds from a stranger can change the trajectory of a day or a mood.
We are more technologically connected than we have ever been, and yet the most disconnected personally. We are so busy worrying about our next destination or our next task or checking our social media over and over again that we miss the opportunity to slow down and be present.
Our world feels so divided right now that genuine connection seems like a lost art. In fact, we use our connection tools as a way to avoid connection. I know I am not the only one guilty of being absorbed in my phone or so distracted that I avoid talking with people.
As humans, we crave connection, and yet many of us have a fear of making those new connections. Why is this? Are we just out of practice?
For a social connection, there needs to be a level of vulnerability, trust and openness; it takes courage. Talking to a stranger at a party requires stepping out of your comfort zone, jumping in headfirst without knowing the outcome.
Personal avoidance might be rooted in shyness, fear or insecurities. And personal relationships can be messy. So, an extension of that, saying “hi” to a stranger can be interpreted internally as messy as well. Are they going to want to talk to you? You’ve opened the door a crack, are they going to put their foot in the door to keep it open?
Our thoughts might jump to what if this person doesn’t like me, or are annoyed by me, or will I embarrass myself? Your mind is telling you these things because it thinks it is keeping you safe.
Or maybe we think, this is a stranger, I don’t know them and won’t see them again, so why would I even care to smile or say “hi.”
If you have some type of insecurity, the first thing you can do is take off the expectation that is holding you back. Reframe your inner voice. Instead of fear, tell yourself that you are taking this action from a place of kindness and love.
But, if you hold the belief, what’s the point? I don’t know them; they have no bearing on my life. Why should I waste my energy? Then you might be missing out on the small treasures that add up to a rich and full life experience.
Take small steps with a smile a day to a stranger and add more as your comfort level grows.
Think of your happiness level fueled with smiles and kind words. Like Santa’s sleigh in the movie “Elf,” the sleigh won’t fly if the spirit meter is empty. You need to believe.
With your simple act of kindness, you are also raising the other person’s happiness meter. It’s a two for one. Kindness is infectious.
At the end of that same run, I was walking down the hill and an older man I had passed and given a smile to earlier was walking beside me. He made a comment and I had to pull out my earbud to hear him. When he asked me if I had a good run, I made the decision to put my headphones away instead of back in my ears. I slowed down my pace so I could have a conversation with him as we walked down the hill. In those five minutes, we found multiple connection points and both of us parted grinning. I didn’t get his name and I haven’t seen him since but that doesn’t take away from the moment of presence we shared with one another.
I give credit to the joyous lady I encountered earlier. Her smile gave me courage and reminded me of the power of connection. As we begin 2023, I invite you to keep the spirit of giving going.
Arissan Nicole is a certified life coach and speaker specializing in women’s empowerment. She lives in Lakebay.
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