Experimenting with Smiles

A few years ago I fell into an experiment. I was walking to the local library while listening to some favorite tunes. A lyric simultaneously triggered a smile in my head and on my face. Just at that moment, a woman, who was approaching, read my smile as if it was meant for her.

She smiled back at me, and I was pleasantly surprised.

As we passed, my smile grew much wider. How wonderful that all humans are equipped to understand and respond to a smile!

A hypothesis shot into my brain. “What if I deliberately started smiling at people approaching me? What percentage would smile back?”

I was optimistic in my outlook and hypothesized: “About 50%.”

The environment was in my favor. At that moment in time, I was located in Silicon Valley with lots of relaxed, public space.

My mission: The next ten people, who crossed my path, would smile back at me after I smiled at them. The experiment has control flaws of course–including my taking responsibility for provoking a smile from another. For all I know, they might be smiling at me first. So, my results, along with a terribly small sample size, has to be validated on much wider scale. I’d welcome others’ results.

Rule One: I would smile at the first 10 random people I passed.

Rule Two: To be successful, I needed to make eye contact. Somehow I needed to make my presence known but without being too invasive. I wanted people to “play attention” with me. I exaggerated my movements with a walk that said confident and happy.

I was successful on the first attempt. Matter of fact, I was four for four. I reminded myself to not get carried away with emotion. I had a job to do. Out of the 10– I was successful with everyone, except for a Dad carrying his infant But the Dad did a double take as I continued to beam on him. He made an obligatory, parsed smile. So 9.5 out of 10! Those results put another smile on my face then and now as I remember the event.

Today’s world has made that difficult. People feel threatened by their fellow humans getting too close. Totally legitimate. It’s science. That doesn’t mean we can’t smile at each other. Even if we are wearing a mask.

I understand that everybody is not as wacky as me. How about a nod of recognition, or a bit of a wave? Even offering a “Hi” can break through this sense of isolation so many of us are experiencing.