Today I came back from an easy, six mile run and I had a revelation:
People carry their faces like armor, showing their every emotion blatantly and unabashedly. Most of the time, we look pretty miserable. We’re busy, stressed, and stuck in our own heads. Our expressions show it. I went further into detail about how our work-culture permeates these issues, and how to combat them, in an article for Medium you can find here.
I’m in the process of training for the Chicago Marathon – my first marathon ever. I think a lot on my runs; running is my form of therapy. Today, I chose to run a different route than usual – and thank goodness I did, for the change of environment allowed me to have some real moments of reflection.
I typically enjoy, and stick to, the same paths. I’m a creature of habit. If you are familiar with Boston, I tend to run in the deep into the neighborhood of Brookline, a beautiful suburban pocket of the city. Brookline is inhabited with spawning trees and jaw-dropping homes, making it a great escape from the madness of the city. However, this morning, I decided to run on the Charles River Esplanade. Runners stress the importance of a change of scenery every once and awhile, and it’s something I admittedly don’t do enough.
The Esplanade is basicallya trail that runs through the entire city of Boston, and borders the Charles River. It’s a wonderful trail, and recently earned Boston the third place title as the “best running cities in the United States” from Runner’s World Magazine. However, I tend to avoid the Esplanade entirely because of the amount of people it attracts. On one side, you can find runners, walkers, and bikers, while perpendicularly, countless cars dart on the highway. It’s a bit overwhelming.
Ironically enough, I ran on the Esplanade almost every day my first semester freshman year of college, nearly two years ago. Boston was such an unfamiliar place, and the Esplanade was simply the only route I knew.
I was born and raised in the Midwest. When I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the heart of Boston, I was overwhelmed, and even a little shocked by the cultural differences between the two cities. I soon noticed how different people acted. Everyone seemed rude. My naiveté made me believe everyone hated me. It was an isolating, confusing experience.
The persona of “stone-cold” New Englanders became blatantly apparent. I immediately missed the courtesy, kindness, and generosity of Midwesterners. New Englanders are not bad people, but their mannerisms can be a bit… blunt (for lack of a better word).
Running has always been my mental escape. However, running on the Esplanade freshman year was anything but clarifying. The differences between running at home versus running in Boston were striking. At home, people smile and wave to you. They’re kind. They shout a warning when they are about to pass. In Boston, everyone has the attitude of…. “get the f**k out of my way.”
Two years ago, running on the Esplanade became too much of a mental burden. Eventually, I stopped running altogether.
Why does this matter? Today was completely different.
I had one of the best, most fulfilling runs of my life. I saw my own self-growth and maturity, and I was so thankful for it. Most importantly, I decided that we can challenge the “status quo” in the simplest of ways.
Today, the countless people on the Esplanade didn’t intimidate me. I’ve become accustomed to, and even adapted, some of their mannerisms. Boston is home now.
Yet, I couldn’t help but to think back to being 18 years old… and afraid. “I should be the person I needed then,” I thought. I decided I would try something I am now calling “the smile experiment.”
The smile experiment is pretty simple.
This can be done anywhere, at any time. What do you need to do? Smile.
Make direct eye contact with someone, anyone, or (preferably) EVERYONE and… smile!
Don’t smile in a creepy way – just be warm, genuine, and inviting! In your head, send them a good thought. Hope, even will, them to have a good day.
And that’s it!
Novel or brilliant? No.
But does this have the power to change someone’s day, or even your own? Absolutely. And the good karma and love that you’re sending out into the world is contagious. I believe that.
When I tried this out this morning, it was the coolest things ever. So many of the “rude” New Englanders seemed genuinely happy with me, and they even returned the favor. I felt as if I had done something to make their morning, maybe even their day, better. That made all the difference.
Did everyone make eye contact or smile back? No. But that’s okay! I got WAYYYY more smiles than I expected, and my own running time got quicker and quicker with every smile I receieved.
It’s a simple practice, so why don’t we do it more? Why don’t we make people feel as if they belong, as if someone is there for them?
You never know what someone is going through.
I probably smiled at at least 350 people today. On one quick run.
Maybe they were feeling like I had only two years ago – isolated and afraid.
Maybe they we’re having a really tough time.
If smiling to at least ONE of these humans made them slightly happier, then it made a big difference.
With just an hour long run, I felt as if I had done something truly meaningful.
Think about if we did this all the time.
What could happen if we kept doing it?
Maybe… just maybe… we would stop thinking about ourselves so often. Maybe it would force a connection with someone we might never else have.
Here’s my challenge to you: TRY IT OUT!
I’m not saying smiling at someone is going to change your life, but I’m also not saying it can’t.