Smiling at Strangers: An Experiment in Spreading Cheer

Every day you walk down the street and pass countless strangers. You keep your head down, put in your earbuds, and hope beyond hope that you do not make awkward eye contact with the person you are passing. Well, my fellow collegiettes, I took it upon myself to do the dreaded deed; smile at people. For a whole day I chose to embrace the awkwardness and see if it was really as bad as everyone says it is. Maybe along the way I could hopefully spread some happiness, and perhaps make one person’s day a little brighter.

8:31 a.m.

I am off to breakfast with my roommate, so it seems like the perfect time to test out this whole “smiling at strangers” way of life. As we walk into the dining hall, I spot my first victim. Standing by the oatmeal (the second bad decision she will be involved in this morning), the girl is of medium height, has brown hair with blue ends, and has a face that seems friendly and accepting (I hope). I hover by the cereal, pretending to be struggling to decide between the same cereal choices I see everyday, as I wait for her to be on the move. Finally, she has filled her bowl and moved on from her spot, so for me it is go time. I hustle to get in her view, and as I pass her, I give her a soft smile. She looks at me with a slightly confused expression, but returns the smile. So far, so good.

10:58 a.m.

I think I have been scarred for life/ realized why I have never tried smiling at strangers before.  I think I found the perfect person. On a normal basis I will give a little smile to the cleaning people in my building, so I figure one of them is a prime target. As I am walking to the laundry room, I notice one of the workers standing in the hallway. "This should be easy", I think to myself. A cakewalk, a guaranteed success. OH WAS I WRONG.

With my laundry basket in tow, I pass by the worker. A middle aged man with an average face but no sign of a smile. I may have underestimated the risk involved with this target. As I walk by, I give him a hefty soft smile, because in my mind I’m thinking, this guy is probably having a long day, he deserves a decent smile. Well, collegiettes, I gave the smile, and want to know how he responded? HE GLARED AT ME AND THEN PROCEEDED TO STARE AT ME FOR MY WHOLE WALK DOWN THE HALLWAY. Was my smile too offensive for you sir?! To be honest I should have figured this is what I would get for trying to be nice for once. Despite this incident, rattled but determined, I am not going to let this stop me.


3:21 p.m.

I'm currently taking taking deep breaths as I try to pump myself up for this next attempt. I am walking with my friend to class, so right now is as good a time as ever to embarrass myself again. I see a guy walking towards me, and because I am always up for a challenge, I choose him as my prey. He is wearing sports attire, so he is definitely on some sort of team. Being the very average and slightly awkward person that I am, I am already aware that I am probably the last person he would return a smile to that he did not know. As we get in range of one another, he gives me a small glance to make sure he did not bump into me. The perfect opportunity presented, I give him a small smile, and inwardly cringe as I wait for him to react. Ladies, in the next minute I managed to lose almost all my faith in humanity, as all of a sudden I must have turned invisible because he straight up ignored me. He saw the smile, he took the time to process that I had in fact smiled at him and not someone else, and then proceeded to turn his head and look in the other direction. WHAT DOES A SISTA HAVE TO DO TO GET SOMEONE TO SMILE BACK?!

I am now drained of motivation and much of my enthusiasm (not that there was a ton to begin with). The future is not looking bright for this experiment.


6:45 p.m.

Ok, I am not going to lie, I cheated a little on this attempt. I am walking down to dinner with my friends and we see our other friend walking back up to our dorm, so I give him a big smile and a hug before continuing on my way. I know, I know. This does not really count because he was not a stranger, but the day I had I needed one positive outcome or else who knows if I would ever want to smile again at people. I figure I should probably end on a high note, because with my luck, if I attempted again I would probably end up with another bad outcome.

As I look back on the day and my failed attempts to spread some kindness and cheer throughout campus, I am realizing that even though today did not work out, maybe I should keep trying to smile and hopefully get other people to do it too. Everyone walks around as if they are alone in this world, which is a pretty awful way of living life. If more of us made an attempt to spread some kindness, maybe everyone would be a little bit happier and a little more accepting of one another. So, my fellow collegiettes, I challenge you: I recognized the power of a smile, will you?



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