Supposedly, we live in a completely connected world. We can call anyone who has a phone, 24/7. We can watch events as they happen on the other side of the world, thanks to television. We can also email, video chat, text, and more.
Yes, all of this technology is absolutely amazing. But ultimately, it really doesn’t make me feel any more personally connected to other people than I was before. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like “an old fogey” (because I certainly don’t feel old), but I think that our wired lifestyles are actually causing us to become more isolated. We’re not interacting person-to-person with other people as much as we used to. We’re forgetting how to be neighborly and pleasant. Our kids are actually losing the ability to converse with others the way human beings have almost since the dawn of time. And that’s a shame, because in my mind there simply isn’t, and never will be, any substitute for good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.
In fact, I actually decided to make “Being Friendly” Step Nine in my Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life program because I think it’s a vital part of being a positive, fulfilled, and, yes, happy person. And I even consider being friendly to everyone I meet with a big hello and smile—and often even with a pat on the back and a hug, too—to be my own secret energy booster, keeping me rocking throughout my day, as each of these fun new interactions gets my own juices flowing as well. You simply can’t put a value on a heartfelt smile or a genuine “Hi, how are you doing?” Think about it: Thanking a bank teller or grocery store cashier for her great help can change her entire day for the better. And saying hello to the traveler next to you can spark a fun conversation, and maybe even a new friendship.
I know from years of experience that even if you can’t see it, everyone on Earth is carrying some sort of burden. It could be that your neighbor’s mother just died, that your coworker was diagnosed with a chronic disease, or even that your niece just went through a break-up with her high-school boyfriend. Always remember, while you can’t take another person’s pain away, you can be what I call a lamp-lighter: someone who makes small positive differences in other people’s lives by making them feel just a little bit happier and lighter along their journeys.
And what about those inevitable difficult days when all you can muster is gritted teeth instead of even a half-hearted smile? Well, just make every effort not to take out your frustration on others around you. It’ll take some self-control, but remember, it doesn’t help anyone when you snap at the sales representative whose hands are tied by company policy, for example.
As you go through life, make an effort to reach out in some friendly way to the people you see. Even if you’re reserved or just not a natural “connector,” it’s still easy to smile and say a quick hello to your neighbors, your coworkers, your bus driver, and your child’s teacher, for instance. They won’t be the only beneficiaries, either. I guarantee you, as you begin to be sunnier to others, you’ll start to feel your own mood brighten, too. (That’s the power of positive connection!) Plus, if you make friendliness a habit, I think you’ll find that others will begin to respond to you differently because they will find you more approachable.
Ultimately, you’ll be surprised by how rewarding simple friendliness can be. You’ll bring more happiness to others’ days and to your own, too. I promise!
Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In and Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, grew up in Needham, Massachusetts.
His new book, The Sunny Days Secret: A Guide for Finding Happiness, is coming in summer 2013.