Sitting in Central Park the other day—one of my first leisurely days in the park during this new season of lush green—I found myself doing a lot of smiling. Often, I sit on a bench under a large tree near a walkway that a number of people use, even early in the morning. On this particular day, there seemed to be even more people, probably because I was in the park a bit later than usual. What struck me were the number of smiles those people and I shared as they passed by.
The experience got me to thinking about two things: first, how easy it is to share a smile to a stranger and, secondly, how powerful a gift it can be, both on the giving and receiving sides of the interaction. It also got me to thinking about the impact of experiencing a moment of connection with people I will probably never see again. When I take the time to pay attention to how the experience touches me, I recognize that it nourishes me. When I think about those interactions, I feel warmth and a connection with a deepened sense of well-being. There’s a warm feeling that comes with these recollections and, while it’s no big deal, it adds something positive to the quality of my day.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to play with sharing smiles with people. Not everyone smiles back but, for those who do, sharing smiles can support a sense of being more connected to the world around you. This doesn’t mean to force smiles on other people. Rather, it’s about responding with a smile if you happen to have eye contact with someone who is passing by, or smiling if a child looks up at you. Knowing what we do these days about the power of mirroring, finding opportunities to present a friendly, smiling face to children is a beautiful practice in itself.
As you play with this experiment, notice what happens in your body when you connect with people through smiling. Pay particular attention to any enlivening, comforting, or nourishing sensations that accompany the momentary connection that comes with sharing a smile with someone. Then, notice how these interactions affect your state of mind, the quality of your emotional experience, the tone of your daily activities.
As with all these experiments, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and allow judgments to arise, move through, and move on. Curiosity helps support a sense of play and discovery, and not engaging judgments can generate a greater sense of internal ease.