How many times have you been the stranger in the room, feeling vulnerable and isolated and self-conscious? You know, the one standing in the corner, trying desperately to hide behind your glass of seltzer water. Probably a lot over the course of your lifetime. Cause God knows I’ve been there. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and sometimes just plain depressing. And I don’t care how self-confident and well-adjusted we are, everyone craves being accepted and acknowledged. Because feeling connected to people is pretty much the main reason why we’re all here.
Enter the stranger who comes up to us and reaches out a hand or flips us a smile or a hello or a nod, just because they want to acknowledge that we’re there. Just because they sense we could use a little attention or contact or recognition at that moment. That’s a game-changer for a lot of people. It’s the difference between engaging with the people around us and not. It’s the difference between feeling isolated and alone and exposed and feeling included and connected and noticed.
To me, being able to give that to someone is huge. Like massive. And the bonus is that it’s totally free and accessible to every single one of us. We all have that power. The irony is, that we don’t all use it. And that’s a shame because the more we reach out to people, the more they reach back, as a general rule.
Now sure, there’s always that super-social dude or girl who lights up a room whenever they walk through the door, connecting with everyone and artfully disarming any stiff or awkward situation. But I feel like those types are the minority. If you observe people as often as I do, you’ll notice that an awful lot of people just can’t be bothered to put themselves out there for the benefit of someone else. Maybe because they’re innately shy or awkward or introverted. Or maybe because they just don’t’ want to make the effort. And I just have to wonder why?
Doesn’t everybody realize that tossing out a simple smile or hello has the ability to change the course of someone’s entire day? Just that one, simple, unsolicited act can give someone else the sense that they matter.
Look, I know how easy it is to just walk past someone and look the other way. It’s easy to avoid eye contact by using our conveniently mirrored sunglasses to “pretend” not to see them. But why? Why would any of us miss out on the opportunity to lift someone else’s spirits or make a new connection or make someone feel like they matter? It just seems silly to me.
I mean, it’s so easy and such an underrated gift to be able to manipulate someone’s mood for the better—if only for a second. And we all have the ability…we just don’t always use it as often as we can. But we sure as hell remember the people who went out of their way to make contact with us. The people who, for no reason other than to be courteous, made a simple gesture on our behalf.
And we all deserve that basic courtesy. Not to mention that no one wants to feel invisible. We all want to matter to the people around us on some small level. Even if we’re strangers. Because that person who was just a stranger to us four seconds ago could be our next best friend if we just managed to show a teensy bit of interest.
Everyone remembers the co-worker who went out of his way to say hi to us the first day on our new job. Or the girl in the cafeteria who stopped to say hello and introduce herself on our first day in the new school. And we remember those people because they did something meaningful and powerful just by acknowledging that we were there.
Sadly, though, I think most of us underestimate that small act of looking someone in the eye and saying hello, but we shouldn’t. Because the truth is, it’s very meaningful. Plus it’s contagious. And it sends a very direct and meaningful message to the other person. Being smiled at makes most people want to smile back. Saying hi to someone encourages that person to say hello back. It’s a totally natural, totally legal, automatic mood enhancer. And it works the majority of the time.
But saying a meaningful, proper hello to the people around us often gets lost in the chaos of the average person’s frantic day. We run around so busy checking things off our giant to-do list that we often don’t pay enough attention to the people we come in contact with during the day-to-day.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people lock eyes with me and then turn away, never saying a word because they were just too focused on getting the right kind of low-sodium soy sauce. Or how many times I’ve seen someone drop their head to deliberately avoid eye contact just because they’re on a tight schedule to drop off their dry cleaning before 5 o’clock. And you just have to wonder why it takes such an effort to do something so small yet meaningful that makes everyone involved feel so good.
And I’ll be honest, even though that person may not even know me, it kind of hurts a little thinking that they couldn’t even squeak out a hey as they brush by me in the produce aisle. I mean, that’s almost no different than a basic exhale, just with a little extra audio attached.
Now I know we all can’t manage to connect with every single person we come in contact with, but we can definitely up the percentage with minimal effort. And that’s all I’m really saying.
I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to the impact a hello has on people and it’s genuinely worth our effort because of the huge return on investment. We give something and our heart is happier for because of it.
So here’s the takeaway… Reach out to people. Instead of throwing shade, throw some nice. Say hello. Extend a hand or a hi or a wave. Because it impacts the world so much more than most of us realize. That’s why I’m finishing with a hi, rather than a bye.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, Mamalode, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.