I'll never forget the day I took my first bus ride in NYC. As I walked down the aisle, looking for an empty seat, I smiled and said hello to everyone who happened to look my way. Hey, I'm from Ohio, okay? That's how we did it. It only took me one ride to figure out that's not how you do it in New York. People first gave me a funny look, like I was weird - and then just looked away. I never did it again. But as of now, that's going to change. Here's why...
A few days ago I walked into the gym where I work out on the weekends and a guy sitting on a weight machine looked up at me and said with a warm smile, "Hello!" I was taken aback. People don't talk to each other in that gym; they keep to themselves, do their workouts and leave. Even people who see each other every week don't speak. But I grinned at this guy and said "Hello" right back at him. The funny thing is that I kept right on smiling. That "hello" for no reason other than to be friendly, made me feel really good. When Jim picked me up an hour or so later, I said, "You want to hear an odd thing that just happened?" And I told him about the guy at the gym. "Well, that's nice," he said.
The following day, as I rounded the corner of 50th and Park, and stopped to rummage around in my purse for my phone, a tiny elderly, very cute woman came up to me and said, "Excuse me, but I absolutely have to tell you how much I love your outfit! You look great!" "How really wonderful of you," I said, "My daughter gave me this dress. I'll tell her what you said. You've really made my day!" "Well, you've made mine," she said, and we went our separate ways - both smiling.
What's going on?" I asked myself. Have people decided to become friendlier? Did I miss something? Then I read a piece in the New York Times that had been written a few days earlier by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton titled, "Hello, Stranger" and decided good karma was definitely at work in my life. Now I'm not saying the guy at the gym and the tiny, cute lady both read the same article but who knows? Here's the gist of the piece: Recent experiments prove that people who "break the rules" of no direct contact - whether they're commuting or walking into a coffee shop - and actually strike up a conversation - had, much to their surprise, far more pleasant experiences than those who just kept to themselves. And, amazingly, no one in the studies reported that they had been snubbed!! In fact, the conversations were really friendly. The funny thing is, we not only don't annoy people with whom we initiate a conversation, we actually make them happy.
Willa, our Golden Retriever, has, of course, always known that. Years ago she appointed herself the official "Central Park Greeter." The minute she sees people gathered together chatting, she drags Jim and me over to them so she can wag her tail, grin and do everything she can to let them know how thrilled she is to see them. They always stop to pet her, start laughing and inevitably begin talking to her - and to us. We've met people from all over the world thanks to Willa. So let's loosen up. Let's break the old "no eye contact, no talking except on our iPhones" rules and see who we can make happy. Including ourselves. Hey, it worked in Ohio...
Here's the link to the NYT article:
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