I consulted with Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, author of Real Happiness and an expert on being present, and she laid out the ground rules. Everyone was fair game. The greeting had to be in-person, and my good intentions guaranteed nothing.
So I did it and I’ll start with my big reveal:
I felt happier, far from a groundbreaking result. Saying hello to feel more connected is the equivalent of breathing deeply to decrease stress. It’s simple, boring, and constantly recommended, and it happens to work. It also doesn’t cost anything, and it could save your life.
The bulk of my outside time, and this experiment, happened at my older son’s preschool. It’s a Jewish Community Center, so after I drop him off, I walk down the hall for a quick workout. The routine can zone me out. Having to say hello forced me to look up, and it was just like with sports. I’m better and have more fun when I pay attention and dictate play. I decided who I said hello to— it didn’t have to be everybody. And then it was a one-word commitment that didn’t have to break my stride, but…
It gave enough of an opening. I ended up talking with people I knew, kind of knew and didn’t know. I learned about hockey tryouts and a fellow parent who has every tool to borrow. I also heard about job stresses and kid worries, stuff that made me realize I don’t have a monopoly on anything and made the people, and the place, feel more personal, because I was taking in actual information.
It wasn’t even necessary to have an actual conversation for me to make headway. There’s an old guy who works out at the same time as I do. He looks crusty, and that was enough to write his entire script. But I had a quota and was on my last set. I gave him a hello. He gave me a quick smile. Guy’s not so crusty anymore.
Saying hi to people never became automatic for me. Even on the last day, I’d forget and jump right into my business. The exchanges still worked, but felt rushed. Slipping up comes with a new habit, Salzberg says. The easy thing is to say “Screw it,” but it’s about being able to restart. And being less hardass on yourself. Again, it’s like sports. You can make mistakes and still win, but not if you implode.
There was a basic thing that happened almost immediately. The intention to say hello gave me a positive attitude. Conversely, I didn’t have time to be a jerk. It was impossible for those two things to co-exist. I don’t want to say I was making a choice, but I guess I just did.