When’s the last time you acknowledged or appreciated someone?

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t met yet.” — William Butler Yeats.

Mr. Yeats is generally correct with this statement. The reason I say “generally” rather than “definitely” is because not everyone we meet turns into a friend. But, even the brief interaction or acknowledgment can be enough to influence each other’s lives the way friends do. Acknowledgement — beyond the generic hi, thank you, have a good day, bye — can be one of the best ways to positively influence someone’s life. Including your own!

Psychologists such as Dan Ariely and his colleagues have studied the power and “importance a simple gesture of acknowledgement [can have on our] level of engagement and perseverance.” Acknowledgement doesn’t have to come in grandiose forms; it could be as simple as saying “thank you for being you” or “thank you for what you do”. The goal is to simply pick out an individual from the school of fish (aka people) that race by as we all go about our routines. For example, here are stories of three people who I acknowledged and the smiles we shared. At the end, you’ll find a few steps to help you do the same.

Smile Story #3

Teaser: the outcome of this story was very uplifting and pleasantly surprising!!

Everyday, thousands of people board ferries from dozens of different locations. There’s a perception that commuters simply get onto the ferry, scroll through our phones, then get off the ferry without ever acknowledging fellow passengers. Does this perception describe your reality? At a minimum, do you acknowledge the ferry employees? Rather than just ponder this question on my own, I decided to ask the one of the employees directly.

“Hey, I’ve a random question… there are so many hundreds of people that you see every day… how often do people actually acknowledge you versus just show you their ticket and maybe say ‘hi’?”

Fortunately, my question didn’t seem to faze him since he started answering without any hesitation.

“On this route, people are often really nice! I’ve received coffee, snacks, breakfast…”

“Really?!” I couldn’t contain my shock.

“Yeah! People have even tried to give me tips, but I refuse to take them.”

“I’m pleasantly surprised! That’s great to hear. Especially since there’s a perception that people usually just keep to themselves. Personally, I realized that I don’t do much more than simply say hi or have a good day, and that’s pretty lame and bare minimum.”

“Oh, no problem! It’s okay. I’ve noticed you have a positive-happy vibe in general.”

“Well, it’s nice to officially meet you; better late than never!”

We introduced ourselves and chatted about the different routes Tim (real names have been changed) has covered over the last several years. Before sitting back down, I handed him a smiles card which read,

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together” — Vincent Van Gogh

As we reached our destination I looked back and noticed that Tim was still reading the back of the smiles card which describes the purpose of GoingForSmiles. He was doing one of those eyebrows-raised-head-nodding signs of affirmation, which made me smile.

“It’s kind of like a traveling gnome and pay it forward type of thing,” I said as he walked in my direction.

“I love the idea; I feel lucky; people are really nice on this route!”

As I disembarked, I felt enthusiastic about all the thoughtful people who ride this ferry and who have done small acts of kindness. It also made me wonder why I was so surprised to hear a positive response! As I reflected, one of my mom’s saying rang loudly in my ears,

“When we don’t ask, what we believe is based on perception rather than on reality”.

Smile Story #4

Crummy days happen. It doesn’t matter how happy we are, we aren’t immune to days when we just want to stay in bed. So, when I observed a woman get onto the ferry and curl herself up into a ball, I felt sympathetic immediately. She sat down towards the back of the boat, pulled her knees as close to her chest as her inflexible-looking dress pants would allow, and turned her upper body to be square with the window. With her back turned to me, I wondered what I could do to try and make her feel better. A couple of times she pulled herself away from the window to fidget with her purse, pull at the sleeves of her jacket, and rest her cheeks on her palms. There was no secret that she was going through a stressful time. Maybe she wasn’t hiding it because she didn’t expect anyone to notice or care. Well, I cared. As we started disembarking, I took a step towards her and said,

“I have a hunch you’re having a crummy day… I hope this smile may help. It’s just a sticker.”

It was wonderful to see a genuine smile cross her face. “Thank you… thank you so much!”, she said, as I nodded and turned around with a smile.

I didn’t want to linger — I just wanted her to feel acknowledged and empathized with.

Smile Story #5

We have all heard about workplaces that offer free food, massages, or exercise classes. My office doesn’t have any of those, but we do have shoe-shine services. Every day, the same guy walks up and down the rows of computers and repeats, “hello, shoe-shine today? Shoe Shine?” First off, I would FAIL at that job because I’ve had trouble with the “sh” sound since I started speaking (alliteration of S’s intended). Secondly, it may appear like a thankless job on the surface since people generally talk with him only when they need their shoes shined. But, we know by now that appreciation and acknowledgment from just one or two people can make all the difference.

Usually, I try to say say “hi” or smile as he walks by, but on Friday he passed my desk while I was still walking back from a meeting. Rather than just sit down and go about my day, I decided to actively thank him for the service he offers us. After finding a SMILE sticker in my purse, I caught up to him — already a few rows away.

He was a bit surprised when I walked directly towards him, but quickly started smiling as I said,

“Just wanted to say thanks for everything you do. I know that you walk up and down the rows and sometimes we say hi, other times we don’t, but we just wanted to share this smile sticker and say thank you.”

Phrasing the thanks as “we” rather than “I” felt more cohesive and impactful. He received the smile sticker with a big smile and thank you. Maybe it was just perception, but I feel like his slumped shoulders even straightened into a confident posture. We parted with a shared smile and as I turned around, I heard him going about his job, asking “hello, shoe shine today?”. But there was something different in his voice — a sort of happy sing-song sound.

“The applause of a single human being is of great consequence” — Samuel Johnson

Thank you for reading this article if full, I appreciate your time :) Here are your next steps:

  1. Think of one or more people who you would like to acknowledge
  2. If they are nearby, walk over to them. If they are farther away, text/email/call them
  3. Don’t overthink what you want to say. Don’t put it off until ‘later’. Do it now
  4. Say something simple like “I appreciate you” or “thanks for everything you do”
  5. If the person or people act surprised, then that’s even better since it’s a sign that they don’t usually receive such acknowledgment
  6. Reflect… then repeat :)
  7. If you’re open to it, share your story; it would be wonderful to hear from you

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