Some days I feel like we live in a disconnected world.
I remember days of gallivanting around the neighborhood to take in the sidewalk cracks, blooming lilacs, and people busy plucking weeds from their sidewalk-adjacent gardens. I remember days before i-phones and computers… or at least the time where I didn’t feel consumed by them.
Some days I feel like in those times I was more focused on the moment and my relationships were more real. I spent hours chatting with friends over tea, plotting new schemes to make money, discussing whether or not we believed in ghosts, and simply being in another’s presence . People would talk to each other at bus stops and Laundromats. Collaboration and relationships occurred in the day-to-day, face-to-face, and it felt good.
The question is how can you create connection and brighten someone’s day both in the face-to-face moments and when the people you love are miles away. It’s something I struggle with. I have a 9-5 job which consists of sitting in front of a computer 90% of the time and most of my friends and family members live over 100 miles away (most are over 1000).
However, I’ve noticed that the days when I have a meaningful conversation, receive a heart-warming e-mail, say thank-you to someone who holds the door open, or just have a connection with another human being, a little sliver of joy enters into my heart and keeps me going. Here are some ways I’ve found can brighten someone’s day (I know they’ve brightened mine).
1) Smile More
Smiles are contagious. Have you ever noticed yourself mimicking someone else’s expressions? Yawns, furrowed brows, surprise, smiles. More often than not, we subconsciously reflect other people’s expressions. Observe yourself the next time you interact with someone. People associate smiles with happiness and often assume you’re friendly when they see you smile.
When I was in retail I would always make myself smile. As soon as I took on my role as a sales girl I’d stretch a smile across my face. Whether I’d just had an argument with someone, was worried about my finances, or wanted to quit my job, I would leave those preoccupations and the feelings that came with them behind and I’d smile. I made it part of my job and it gradually became my norm. I began smiling subconsciously, I began feeling happier, and most of the customers I greeted and assisted smiled back. Several customers even told me that seeing my smiling face made them happy.
Trust me, the science backs me up- smiling makes a difference. In one British study conducted by Hewlett Packard, brain scans showed that people’s moods would rise upon seeing others smile.
2) Say Thank You
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched others hold a door open for someone, give a compliment, hand someone their coffee, bag groceries, run an errand (you get the idea) without any acknowledgement. People should not be taken for granted and neither should their kind actions. Remember to acknowledge others and thank them for what they do for you.
Say thank you if someone holds the door open for you.
Say thank you to the cleaning person at your hotel/place of work/apartment.
Say thank you to your bus driver.
Say thank you to the cashier and bagger at your grocery store.
Say thank you to the barista who makes your coffee and the waiters who bring you your food.
Say thank you to your spouse/significant other/friend/family member for running that errand.
Make gratitude a way of being. Notice how you feel when people thank you. When you acknowledge people and appreciate them, you build a connection with them.
3) Be Helpful
Hold the door open. Stop to pick up someone’s change when they drop it. Help someone change their flat tire. Be attentive to people’s needs and see what you can do.
When I was in college I had the most incredible group of friends. When I was sick, several of them would automatically ask if they could do anything to help. They would make me soup, buy me Kleenex, return my library books, and just make sure I was doing okay. The strongest relationships I’ve built have been with people who saw that I needed help and jumped in. Take my husband for example, back when we were just starting to date, he came over to my house with a shovel after another New England snowstorm and shoveled all the snow off of my balcony. Why? Because he was worried that it would break under the weight of the snow and I would get hurt. I fell in love with him a little more that day.
Think about your friends and your family, what have they done for you that you never asked them to do? Think about strangers that have helped you. How did you feel after receiving their unexpected help? I know I’ve felt blessed, loved, grateful, happy, ecstatic, and relieved. Whether a big or small act, you can absolutely make someone feel a little happier by helping them out.
4) Reach Out
Are there people you haven’t talked to recently who you miss being connected to? Give them a call, schedule a Skype date, write them a letter, send them a postcard, message them on Facebook, tweet them. Just let them know that you’re thinking about them. See what happens.
I love it when people reach out to me when I least expect it. Once upon a time I had a really close friend in high school who was an exchange student from Thailand. We were together for a semester during our Junior year before she transferred to another school then moved back to Thailand. When we were at the same school, we did nearly everything together. Once she moved back to Thailand I never saw her again. Then, one spring day when I was a freshman in college I got a call… it was her. That was certainly the highlight of my day.
Who can you reach out to today? Who’s company are you missing? Take the first step and reach out to that person/ those people today.
5) Extend an Invite
For the people you see regularly or who live close by, extend an invite. Get in some face-to-face conversation. Invite your coworker to grab lunch. Ask your mom if she wants to go on a hike. See if your friend wants to go to a Lila Downs concert with you. Extend an invite. Make your relationships a priority and expand the opportunities you have to engage. Sure not everyone’s going to say yes all the time, but it’s worth your effort. It’s worth it when people say yes and you’re able to spend quality time with someone you care about or want to get to know.
6) Give Someone a Meaningful Compliment
Sure you can let someone know that you love their dress and that’s great. That also brightens someone’s day… but how about something that really reaches a person’s heart. The best compliments I’ve received are one’s that have touched on who I am as a person. For example, a couple of weeks ago, a custodian at the school I work at told me he thinks that I have the best group of High School mentors that the elementary school has seen and that I’m running the program really well. Made. My. Day.
Think about the people you see on a regular basis. What do you really appreciate about them? Is it that they always step in and help without even being asked? Is it that they think of the most thoughtful gifts? Is it that they always have an optimistic outlook even on the days when the world seems to be scowling? Let that person know how awesome they are. They deserve it.
What suggestions do you have for connecting with others and brightening someone’s day?