The Power of Smile for a Stranger
In 1993, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen released the mega-hit Chicken Soup for The Soul. This book struck a nerve with a world that was hurting and needed to connect with stories that created hope for those who felt hopeless and nurtured people who were feeling lost and abandoned.
The book was a compilation of true and true-ish stories that inspired readers through accounts of people making a difference when it mattered most. One story was titled “A Simple Gesture”, penned by John W. Schlatter. In his story, he describes Bill and Mark. Bill was a nerdy guy who was often bullied. Mark encountered Bill on a day when Bill was planning to kill himself. Mark smiled at Bill, and that gesture helped Bill feel the compassion and sense of being seen that he needed in order to stop his plan and consider an alternative to suicide. All because of a smile.
Here are some things Chicken Soup for the Soul Got Right:
- Smiling Helps
One of the book’s stories recounts a tale from Antoine Saint-Exupery, about a POW who extends a smile to his captor and is, miraculously, released. The message? Smiling never hurts and often helps. A smile has been found to make us feel more positive when times are tough and can create an instant bond with another person. So why not use it just a little bit more?
- One Small Step at a Time
Whether you’re cleaning out your room after staring down the ceiling that has been there since forever, or trying to master the art of baking, starting in small, manageable bites make the journey much less scary and much more achievable.
- Time is Now
So, you want to write a book, or start a blog, or save for a house, but instead of actually writing, or starting your website, or inquiring to real estate agents, you make excuses about how it’s not the right time. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we all do it.
The book offers an entire section to overcoming difficulties; every single story is about people who tried and failed, people who worked up the courage to try, and our favorite piece, three pages of things we wait for in order to get a task done. One of them is seriously for wars to end.
When we encounter people for the first time, we have no idea what is going on in their lives – just as they have no idea what is going on in ours.
One of the nicest things we can do for them is to simply smile at them.
The act of smiling and giving out that social energy releases endorphins in our body designed to make us feel good. The experience of receiving a smile can change our mood, our perspectives, and our self-image.
What does a simple smile convey?
I see you.
You are accepted.
I like you.
You matter to me.
Smiling is one of the fundamental ways we bond as human beings. From birth, we use smiling as a way to connect with our babies. We also wait with anticipation to see that first real smile back, an indication we are making an impact on our children’s learning. To know that they see us, and they like what they see.
Try this exercise for a day, and see if you notice the impact it has on you and those around you.
Choose a day when you are going to be in your community, running errands or crossing paths with multiple people. Make a point to look at each person you see in the eye and smile. Don’t worry if they have their head down, just look at them and smile. Chances are, they will feel your energy and lookup.
When you see a clerk in a store, smile at them. Wait for the smile back, and greet them pleasantly. For all you know, the person before you could have zapped their energy and left them feeling empty. Your attention and a pleasant smile can refuel and recharge them.
Notice how you feel when someone responds to your smile with one of their own. Notice how it feels when they don’t. Chances are, once you feel the impact your smile has on others, it will become a regular part of your non-verbal communication skill set.
Start Practicing Random Acts of Kindness
Random acts of kindness are spontaneous efforts that influence unsuspecting recipients. They are generally considered “random” because they aren’t usually planned ahead of time. They are a way of seizing an opportunity, at the moment, to do something kind for someone else. A random act of kindness means seeing a need and filling it at that moment, whether someone is looking or not.
You’ve certainly heard stories about people in the coffee-shop drive-thru paying for the drinks of the cars behind them. People who practice random acts of kindness are out to make a difference in the lives of people they likely don’t know personally. Their hope is to generate momentum and create a chain of kindness that continues to ripple forth.
Some people are intentional about being kind; though their activity seems random, it is in fact well thought out. They take effort ahead of time to prepare their kindness, usually by putting together trinkets or gestures that will make an impact for others.
One woman, who wanted to encourage healthy eating, hid $10.00 bills in the produce section of her local grocery store. She wanted to reward and assist people who were looking to buy fresh, healthy food. Another woman kept gallon-sized bags in her car filled with socks, travel-size hygiene items, and a $5.00 bill for when she encountered someone in need.
Each of these women had a passion for the well-being of others and turned that passion into a way to share a kind act to make an impact in a space that mattered to them. All it took was some ingenuity and the desire to be an anonymous donor of kindness.
Other ways to share your kindness randomly:
- Leave coupons for discounts under certain items at the grocery store
- Pay for the meal of a young family in a restaurant
- Tuck a note of encouragement onto someone’s windshield
- Anonymously leave a coffee card for a new dad on his desk at work
- Offer to babysit for a single mom
- Send your child’s teacher a gift in the middle of the week for no reason
Whether calculated or spontaneous, acts of kindness are great ways to extend your grace, encouragement, and love. You never know when you might have the urge or the nudge to act to make someone’s day. Go with it – and enjoy the impact you have. Make random acts of kindness part of your practice wherever you go. You never know, you might turn out to be the recipient of a random act of kindness yourself!
Bonus: Do Your Homework Before Making Financial Contributions
Financial contributions are a primary way that people make an impact. Supporting an infrastructure that already exists is easy, productive, and creates an instant impact when the money changes hands. Why wait to create a chance to make a difference when you can plug into something that is already up and running? Professional organizations have mastered the path to making an impact and can continue to do so with your small and large contributions pooled together with others.
As social media has evolved, so has reported. Now more than ever, it’s possible to read reviews of nonprofits and agencies that rely on donated dollars and fundraising to balance their budgets. It takes much more than a good sales pitch to get into someone’s pocketbook. Unscrupulous tactics can be exposed more readily today, making it easier to verify the validity of the places we support.
Care needs to be taken to do a little research and verify the mission and activities of an agency before making a financial commitment. Doing your homework is easy and helps you to see where even a small donation can have a big impact.
How do you begin to narrow down the wide range of options to ensure you financially support a good cause? People generally want to help those who have a pain point similar to their own. Consider what you have overcome or what burdens you have had to bear. Then seek out organizations and groups that target those same issues. Once you’ve selected, do some research and determine what sort of track record they have for making a difference and using their funds wisely.
Things to look at before making financial contributions:
What is the mission of the organization?
The organization’s mission should be available to the public and match the activities that they engage in.
Is the organization public or private?
This isn’t a deal-breaker, but public entities generally have a more diverse board of directors and public meetings or produce annual reports for review.
Do they have a bad press for a reason?
Some organizations have been spotlighted for shady practices or for not managing their donations in a forthright manner. Some of the most mainstream nonprofits have been criticized for mismanagement of funds.
Does their mission align with yours?
If the organization’s mission matches yours, you are far more likely to stay connected and donate over a length of time. This alignment creates a sense of community and sustains the giving relationship.
Does too much income go to support administrative costs?
Sadly, some of the biggest agencies suffer from having too many administrative costs that erode the income brought in through donations. It is vital to determine what percentage of donated dollars go to making a direct impact. Many organizations make a point of highlighting how much of your donation goes directly to the cause.
Is your donation one-time or ongoing?
Can you become a partner for life or just a one-time supporter? Consider the programs, places, and companies you use consistently. Since you are already engaged with these organizations, it makes practical sense to spend your dollars on their long-term success. Consider making smaller, consistent contributions rather than one big one.
Are there opportunities for other forms of involvement?
One of the best ways to keep a long-term commitment and see the difference is to become involved outside of purely financial contributions. See if there is a way to participate in other areas of the organization and become more familiar with how your dollars are making an impact.
Being a financial supporter is an excellent way to make an impact when your time and energy are a limited commodity. You can easily find an organization that fits your personal mission and passion. Do your homework, and enjoy making a difference through donation.