Plenty of researchers have shared the power of the smile. But while writing Step Back From the Baggage Claim, I decided to study it myself.
For my informal Smiling Study, I wondered how people would respond to me looking them square in the eye and smiling.
So I walked the six airport terminals for 30 minutes each, in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Diego, and Columbus, doing nothing but looking people in the eyes and smiling. The tally criteria were that they had to make direct eye contact with me; there could be no verbal cues on my part; and they couldn’t already be smiling.
The results? Seventy-five percent of the people smiled back at me.
Of the 174 at which I smiled, 131 smiled back.
The hardest part of this entire experiment seemed to be getting people to look me in the eyes—additional confirmation that our autopilot trances are so often concentrated on our own world that we’re oblivious to what’s happening around us.
Still, 75 percent on average—three of every four people—responded by moving from neutral into a smile. I choose to see that as a huge positive. Of every four people we come into contact with, we can impact the world for three of them just by smiling, even for just an instant—spreading joy quietly.
My invitation to you today, then, is simple: Look someone in the eyes and smile. It might just be the catalyst for more positive change around us.
Jason Barger is the globally celebrated author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, ReMember, and the newly released book Thermostat Cultures, as well as a coveted keynote speaker and leadership consultant. More importantly, he’s striving to be an above average father, husband, and friend.
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