The simple thing that makes a difference

“… sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference.”

Yesterday, I used the title of an article to begin the blog entry. Today, I use the concluding sentence of another article as the starting line.

The “simplest things” that Sam Sommers, writer of the article The Power of Hello, refers to are saying hello to and smiling at others. Behavioral research shows that these very simple things do make a big difference, not only in social interaction, making those we are in contact with feel more satisfied, but also in our own lives, leading us to enjoy what we are doing a little bit more.

But why is it that we don’t do them more often? The answer lies in what researchers call “stimulus overload”. We have so much going on, both around us and in our minds. What go on around us are the sights, sounds, smells, etc., while what goes on in our minds are the deadlines we have to meet and the things we have to do. To conserve mental energy so as to enable us to accomplish the latter, we put on perceptual blinders to block out the former. The net outcome of this is that we are less connected with those around us, and we are sending out a message that we are less than hospitable. The latter effect is particularly harmful, as research shows that the biggest obstacle to forming friendships in NOT lack of interest but the BELIEF that others lack interest. Isn’t that so very revealing?

I can testify to this. All too often I would like to say hello to those I meet, but maybe because Hong Kong is a big city or maybe it is something in our culture, people tend to build walls around them – walls which are almost impenetrable. Smiles are supposed to be contagious, but here it doesn’t seem to work.

Maybe I should try harder next time. Maybe I should dispel the belief that others lack interest. Maybe such a simple thing as saying hello will make a difference.

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