How Saying Hi Can Change Someone’s Day

When I was 13, I lived with my dad in Texas for a short time. We did a lot of driving up and down country roads and highways. More often than not, oncoming drivers would raise a hand in greeting, and my dad would return the gesture. I asked him why people waved at us. He said they’re just saying hi. I asked why? He said because it’s what people do.

They probably thought I was adjusting my sun visor.

I was born and raised in Southern California, and in that world, waving at people you don’t know is not “what people do.” In the suburb of LA where I lived, if somebody in an oncoming car raised his or her hand, it wasn’t to say hi.

Waving to strangers is a cool way to acknowledge each other.
Waving to strangers is a cool way to acknowledge each other.

We’re All in the Same Boat

But it stuck with me, this waving to strangers. It was a pretty cool way to acknowledge, however briefly, fellow passengers on this boat we call earth. When I started driving, I occasionally waved to passing California drivers. None of them waved back. I don’t think they knew what I was doing. They probably thought I was adjusting my sun visor.

Being basically friendly and outgoing, I took it a step further. I began saying hi out of the blue to the occasional person I passed on the street. Surprisingly, almost every one of them seemed to cheer up a little and said hi back. A few, however, just kept walking, heads down, refusing to give me the time of day. I thought, “Geez, I’m not going to follow you home. I’m just saying hi.”

Are the Shells of Modern People Tougher to Crack?

That was a long time ago (like before Nirvana). Today, a lot of people live in their own little insular worlds and stay in them wherever they go. Many people you pass on the street are bowed down to a gizmo clutched in their hot little hands, unaware of their surroundings. They probably could feel uplifted by a greeting from a stranger, but they’ve sealed themselves off.

You never know how a simple “hi” might brighten someone’s gloom.

Or have they? I wanted to find out, so yesterday I made it a point to say, “how’s it going?” to everyone I passed while out walking or shopping or whatever. Before I tell you my results, let me say that a friendly greeting works both ways: The person receiving it feels good about being acknowledged, and the greeter feels good for having taken a step toward connecting with an otherwise stranger.

You never know what kind of day another person is having, and you never know how a simple “hi” or “how’s it going?” might brighten someone’s gloom. And even if there’s no brightening, so what? Saying hi is free, and it’s easy, so why not do it?

What Happened When I Said Hi to Everybody

Below are the actual results I got with my experiment yesterday. I didn’t keep track of all my greetings, but here are five of them.

Me: How’s it going?
Couple with a baby, the man speaking: Good. How are you? (His response was engaging and cheerful.)

Me: How’s it going?
Heavyset older man: All right. (This guy wasn’t happy being addressed by someone he didn’t know.)

Me: How’s it going?
Man in his 50s: Good. (He smiled big as soon as I greeted him.)

Me: How’s it going?
Woman in her 40s: Good. How about you? (She seemed surprised and was very genuine in her response.)

Me: How’s it going?
Teenage girl staring at her phone: Oh, good. How’s it going with you? (She seemed happy that someone would say something to her without typing it.)

The responses from the individuals above and several others reminded me that even with our distracted lives, most of us have an understanding that we’re all in this together. Strangers seem “unfriendly” only until we engage them. Even people who feel threatened by life can perk up when they receive an impromptu, nonthreatening greeting.

As for me, my experiment yesterday reinforced the benefits you can experience when stepping out of yourself and into another person’s world. Greeting someone and getting a response involves very few words and is over in an instant. But for some unknown reason, it feels like many more words were spoken — words of connection and compatibility that bring two people together, however briefly, in a world that often seems “out there” rather than “in here.”

What would happen if you said hi to everyone you met today? Try it. The result might make you smile.

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