There’s this idea in social psychology called reciprocity; it involves responding to a positive or negative action with a similar action. For example, if someone gives you a birthday card, you might give them a hug, but if someone steps on your toe, you would make an angry face at them (a video explaining a related study here).
Remember back to a time when you were given a genuine smile….there’s that initial wave of happiness , seretonin quickly flows through your brain, your eyes brighten, and you can’t help but smile back. After this encounter, you’re more apt to have a lightened mood and will smile at any people around. As you smile towards these people, they experience that same happiness reaction that had earlier taken control of your smile. Congratulations, you’ve just started off a contagious wave of smiling people who are going to spread those smiles and good moods wherever they go next.
This butterfly effect result (small wings developing into a strong wind) originating from a positive action as basic as a smile may be exaggerated a little, but consider the power of that smile. And smiles are free….everybody has one, they’re easy to make, and accepted just about everywhere. Similarly, other small bits of positive communication: a random act of kindness, a hug, a compliment, a friendly hello to a stranger, can invoke that positive attitude in pretty much everybody.
These positive actions are incredibly easy to perform; yet easy to forget without making them a part of our daily lifestyles. The beginning of this video shows a great depiction of our blah emotions….here’s the link. Notice how both the man and woman are each stuck in their own negative cycles and can’t seem to see anything positive around. But the man sees an opportunity to lighten up the mood of a stranger (the woman) after seeing the raincloud drawn above the lady on the bench. While this is a somewhat specific and idealized example, it shows how easy it can be to influence someone’s attitude with just the simple idea of a positive action.
I encourage you to try and fit in at least one positive action each day….maybe smile at a stranger, perform a random act of kindness, compliment a neighbor, go start a conversation with someone who’s sitting alone, wake up and smile at yourself, take the dog for a walk, or smile at the person who brings you your coffee in the morning. (The list doesn’t end here, feel free to come up with your own!)
Scared? Do it, it’s worth it. =)