The power of a smile
First day of the week, 5pm, perfect weather. I’m running my favorite track around the Alster, one of the greatest spots in Hamburg.
Since this running track is actually the most crowded one in Germany, I am accompanied by many other runners, which creates a pretty motivating environment.
I thought to myself: could you imagine a better spot and time to make your Monday-routine a little bit more interesting? And here began my spontanious experiment: smiling at every person who was approaching me.
What I can say is, it was fun. And disillusioning.
Most of the people where so shy, they didn’t even dared to look at anybody’s face. They just stared onto the ground. Of course, I know that many of them just started to run again since spring showed up some days ago, and it is simply too exhausting to make any eye contact at all.
But you can distinguish between the ones who are struggling with their endurance and those, who are just focusing on themselves. I was surprised how few people looked at me and even fewer returned a smile.
After I recognized that not so many people are responding to my friendliest face I can make, I observed their behavior more intensively. In nearly every case the runner tried not to look at me until the last second and then turned their head in my direction to see who was passing by. For me, this was a clear sign that people are interested in their surroundings and other individuals, at least. But when it comes to making eye contact, to get into a kind of light conversation with a glimpse, a little “hi, we are doing the same and I know how you feel”-look, we are failing.
Since I am a 21-year-old young woman, the strongest effect for me was to pass by other women of my age — they were not even looking at me, not a bit. Why is that happening?
In our generation, showing interest in another person in real life became more and more outdated. We can look at each other on Instagram, like photos, post comments, and fake our lives through snapchat-filters all the time with the ease of a touch — but starting a normal conversation or eye contact is uncomfortable and takes effort to make it work. Being real is exhausting, so why not just stay for yourself, in your comfort zone? And then it striked me: We are living in a society, where we try to get the attention of somebody by ignoring them. Doesn’t make sense to you? To me neither.
Finally, some of the people were looking and also smiled. They were so surprised that somebody tried to interact with them on such an easy level, that they smiled even more! In return, I felt encouraged and motivated to continue — and since the Alster is a lake, I saw everybody twice, so my return-on-smile increased steadily. Just imagine people motivating, interacting being nice and friendly more often to each other, how your mood and hence your mind would change over the time.