Article in brief: The author challenges readers to discover the joy of smiling at one stranger at a time.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~Leo F. Buscaglia
I’m one of those people that walk around everyday smiling at people. I’ve gotten snarky comments from family, friends and strangers that I’m “passing out smiles”, but I just laugh at it. It is an automatic reaction that I get when I make eye contact with a person. I may be overthinking this small act, but smiling to me respects the humanity that we share with one another.
Our culture is built on the beauty of hospitality, one may even argue, especially to strangers. However, far too often I have met non-Arabs who ask me where I’m from and are pleasantly surprised when I tell them I’m Emirati. Some of them have shocked me by saying that they have lived in the UAE for a number of years, but I’m the first Emirati woman they’ve spoken to. I find that very hard to believe, but realize in today’s world, people are preoccupied with their own thoughts and the noise of the world today that could lead them to miss out on the simple act of smiling at strangers.
I vividly remember a specific feedback session during my year at business school where we were asked to constructively criticize our team members after working with them for months. In between all of the helpful remarks, one of my team members said, “I don’t know what it is about you, but your smile makes me feel happy. And you smile a lot, so I’m always happy.”
A study was completed in mid-2012 that revealed that small gestures, such as smiling or nodding can make people feel more connected, which stems from the fact that people are social beings adapted for group living. The feeling of connected-ness was in contrast to the feeling of being ostracized or purposely overlooked, which results in mainly a psychological pain, but sometimes, a physical pain too.
I don’t know about others, but I can personally say that smiling makes me happy. It raises my spirits, and apparently, makes other people happy too. That’s when the whole concept of the power of a smile hit me. It’s a simple gesture that allows you to connect yourself with another human being for a split second. It allows you to free yourself from the noise of your own thoughts by noticing the beauty in other people and the world around you.
A smile is welcoming and will make people instantaneously feel more at ease when you walk past them or walk into a room. I’ve had numerous conversations with strangers throughout the last few years, whether it was while I was waiting for a flight at an airport lounge, or grabbing coffee at the café next to home, or at large dinner parties. Through those short conversations, I managed to meet people from all over the world and give them a glimpse of who I am, what I stand for and where I come from. It gives me the opportunity to be an ambassador of myself, my country, women of the region, the private equity industry (as an ex-financier), the consulting industry and pretty much anything else that comes up in conversation. It’s a good feeling to be able to exchange ideas and knowledge with people that you were introducing yourself to in the same seating.
So go on, I challenge you to smile at one stranger today. A couple of strangers tomorrow, three strangers the day after and so on. Because, why not? The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) even said, “Smiling in the face of your brother is charity.” Check how you feel about yourself and the people around you in a month. I guarantee you that you will notice a change about how you feel about yourself, about the people around you and the obstacles that come your way. Be the person that brightens up a room with your smile.
Haif Zamzam is a bon viveur who just can’t get enough of life. Her inflexibility for the norm coupled with her constant hunt for a challenge pushed her to the private sector where she is a professional in a top-tier consulting firm. Haif has an MBA from INSEAD and a Bachelors degree from the AUS. Through her column, Joie de Vivre, French for “Joy of Living,” Haif hopes to show how living with your head in the clouds is highly underrated.