I was sitting in the front of the bus with a few dozen soft yellow and pink gerbera daisies cradled in my lap.
As I gazed at these living works of art, I marveled at their beauty.
I have similar thoughts every week when I go to the open market in Tel Aviv and buy flowers to give away to strangers on the street.
This simple act of kindness has become a movement called Give A Flower, Get A Smile. The giving of a flower is used as a tool to connect and smile with other human beings.
A woman sitting across from me first looked at me and then at the bundle of flowers.
“Would you like one?” I asked. “It’s free.”
“No,” she quickly responded. “I’m not headed home.”
Then from behind, I heard an almost child like voice from behind say “You’re so cute.”
I turned around and was surprised to see that it was a young woman, perhaps in her early 30s, with laughter in her eyes who had spoken those words.
“You’re so cute,” she said again “to be giving flowers away. Why do you do it?”
I explained to her how living in the city these past 5 years had made me aware of how disconnected we are. That the majority of people I pass on the streets have a vacant stare on their face as they talk or text on their cell phones. And that direct eye contact and a warm smile is a rarity.
Rather than continuing to complain about what I observed on the streets, which I had done for a few years, I decided to do something about it.
Since I love flowers and know the profound transformation they can have on someone’s well-being, giving a flower to a stranger feels like a natural way for me to connect with someone.
She said “I can’t believe you’re doing this. It’s so different.”
Silence. We had connected.
“Would you like a flower?” I asked.
“I’m going to work,” she responded.
“So put it on your desk. When you look at it, it’s going to bring you happiness,” I said.
Her response – “I need all the help I can get. I’ve got a difficult 12 hour day ahead.”
She then went onto explain about her job as a Casting Director for a new FOX series and how stressful it was. How she felt enormous pressure to make the right choices. Clearly her neck was on the line.
Because I have a background in broadcast media, it was easy for me to understand and feel empathy for her situation.
We chatted for a few minutes more before I pulled a flower out and said “So take one. Every time you have an opportunity today, return to your desk – even for a few seconds – take a deep breath and gaze at the flower. It will help calm and center you.”
“And” I continued, ” I’m going to ask you to take an extra flower and give it to someone at work. Perhaps you can help make a difference in their day.”
Her response? “I know exactly who I’m giving it to – a guy who is trying out for a part in the show and is incredibly nervous about it. Maybe the flower will help give him the confidence he needs.”
When she told the driver to stop the bus and got up to leave, she smiled at me and said, “Thank you, thank you so much for helping me start my day this way. I’m feeling better.”
As she hopped off with her 2 yellow flowers in tow, I watched her walk away and felt my heart full of love and happiness.
“This 5 minutes of connecting with a stranger on the bus had me smiling and glowing the rest of the day.”
Research Shows That Feeling Connected To Others Has A Positive Influence On Our Health.
And for good reason.
Research consistently shows the profound influence that the lack of connections has on our health.
In a NY Times Article called The High Price of Loneliness which I read about on a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Sat Shaan, research done by geriatricians at the University of California, San Francisco, asked 1,604 adults age 60 and older how often they felt isolated, left out, or lacking companionship.
The researchers were trying to tease out the results of feeling of lonely, of not having meaningful connection. They recorded the answers in 2002 and then every other year through 2008. The number of adults who felt lonely during that time period didn’t change significantly.
The big change was in the health of those individuals who felt ‘isolated and unhappy.’
“Lonely older adults also were 45 percent more likely to die than seniors who felt meaningfully connected with others, even after results were adjusted for factors like depression, socioeconomic status and existing health conditions.”
The article goes on to say that loneliness is not the same things as being alone – that it is the emphasis on meaningful connections that constitutes what loneliness is and is not.
It is not about the number of relationships that you have. Or if you live alone or with someone else. It is about how you experience the relationships in your life.
Smiling does have an influence on your mood and on those around you.
There’s a huge amount of research that has been done on mimicry – a process where a person mirrors the emotions of the person to whom they are exposed. So when someone smiles at you, mimicry supports the theory that your muscles automatically maneuver themselves into a smile mode as well.
5 Simple Things That Can Help You Connect and Smile
1. Walk headphone and text free when you’re out on streets or public transportation.
Take a break from the tech-centric world. Wake up your senses to what’s happening around you. Observe people and life in general. Doing so will give you a greater appreciation of our universal humanness.
2. Set a daily intention to smile at strangers throughout the day. If you’re not used to doing it, it may initially feel strange. But like anything, the more you practice, the easier it will become.
Don’t let yourself off the hook on this one. It is important to be vigilant about practicing and making smiling a habit.
3. Start a conversation with someone you don’t know at least one time per day – waiting for the bus, in line to get a cup of coffee or at the grocery store.
If you’re shy or are concerned about sounding silly, you’ll need to take a leap of faith and trust what I’m telling you.
People are hungering for human contact.
Aren’t you? How do you respond when someone you don’t know initiates a friendly conversation with you?
One of my strategies is to ask someone an opinion about a certain product she’s buying. Or I will complement her on the outfit she’s wearing, her hairstyle – anything that I notice and actually have something authentic and positive to say about it.
If you try to start a conversation with someone and it falls flat, get out there any try again.
4. Practice living in a more interconnected way – which translates into small acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
Hold the door for the person coming in or out of a store.
Give your seat on the train or bus to an elderly or disabled person.
Give a generous tip to the waiter, doorman, or person who makes a delivery to your home.
Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to everyone.
Support us by grabbing one of our badges here and post it on your blog or website.
In a culture that values ‘epic contributions’, it may feel counter-intuitive that by connecting with someone you don’t know and smiling throughout the day that you can be an agent for positive change in the world.
But it’ s true. You can be an agent of positive change through taking a small initiative.
And the beauty of making connect and smile a part of your daily repertoire is that it will help transform what might have been an ordinary day into an extraordinary one – not only for the other person but for you as well.
“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus
PLEASE NOTE -There are some fantastic organizations that are about empowering you to participate in acts of kindness to make the world a kinder and happier place. Here are a few of my favorites.
Action for Happiness is a movement of people taking action to create a happier society.
Life Vest Inside inspires people to recognize the potential they have to affect real positive change in this world through kindness.
Positivity Nation is a global community of sharing positivity in 100+ countries on 6 continents.