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Giving a stranger a small smile or even just making eye contact as you pass can have a huge impact on their feelings and their health. Researchers at Perdue University found that even the smallest amount of eye contact, or a smile, or both, can make people feel connected to others.
Being ignored makes people feel lonely
Nobody wants to be lonely. Loneliness is painful. Lack of acknowledgment is soul-destroying. Lack of human contact can kill you. The Alameda County Study looked at 7,000 people over 9 years between 35 and 65, and found that those who were socially connected were 3 times less likely to die of medical illness that those who were not. Swedish researchers interviewed nearly 1,300 patients about to undergo artery bypass surgery. Only one of the 38 statements they tested: “I feel lonely” proved to be associated with their outcomes: The patients who said they felt lonely were 2.5 times more likely to die within 30 days of their surgery. The studies are endless.
Isolation is a big problem in cities and can be even worse in small towns. But it’s so easy to do your bit and bring people alive.
I’ve always made a point of flashing a smile at a stranger in the street, looking the cashier in the eye and generally acknowledging others. There’s a person in there and they are no different from you. We all need to feel validated.
Flash them a smile, look them in the eye. Linger longer – just a fraction. Not everyone, not all the time, and not for too long – that’s creepy. But go ahead. Make someone’s day.
It might just be your own.