Thoughts for Myself

The smile experiment

On any given day, how many persons do you interact with? How many of them will you interact with again in the future? What are the chances that you will smile to those whom you do not expect to come in contact ever again, compared to those you know you will see over and over again?


Maybe there are many factors such as occupation, personality, and culture affecting the answers to these questions. But I get the impression that, in general, we interact with a lot more one-timers than we think, yet we do not smile to them as often as we do to repeaters.


A while ago, I was in urgent need of some crisp new bills when I was out on business, and I rushed into a branch of my main bank I have never been to before. I ran up to a teller and pushed forward a request form, but she directed me to an automated machine where there was a long queue. I had to tell her a long story on how little time I had before she finally (but very reluctantly) responded to my request.


I was very upset at the service I received from this teller the moment I came out of the bank. But when I looked back that evening, I realized I could not blame her entirely.

Maybe she could have responded to my request better, but did I give her the chance to perform at her best, rushing her to get what I wanted?

Maybe she could have shown a little more flexibility with her service, but did I give her any choice, forcing onto her my needs before she had the time to explore options?

Maybe she could have been nicer, but did I give her even a “hello” or a “please” or a “thank you in advance”… or a smile?


Maybe the way she served me only mirrored the way I treated her. It made me feel ashamed of how I behaved, disrespectful and unappreciative. It led me to rethink about my smiling tendencies.


Smiles are not produced without costs – it takes energy to move your facial muscles, and it takes a toll on your emotions to have to smile when you do not feel like smiling. So you become choosy about who to smile to, to bear the least cost or to get the most utility out of your every smile.


Then, it would seem efficient and efficacious to smile more to those you are sure to see again to maintain an amicable (or at the very least, frictionless) relationship, and less or not at all to those you believe will be the last time you see, and therefore no need to maintain any relationship, so as to not waste your limited resources.


But surely, there must be other sides for you to consider when paying the costs of smiling: the overall effectiveness.

Maybe smiling to one-timers is more costly than it is to repeaters.

But maybe by smiling even to one-timers, you could get them to mirror you and pull a smile out of them as well.

Then maybe you could feel better about how you behaved, treating another the way you would have wanted yourself to be treated.

And maybe you could be greatly satisfied with being able to have had some memorably pleasant encounters


Ever since the encounter with this particular bank teller, I have been testing out the effectiveness of my smiling behaviours. The experiment is not structured, so I cannot tell if my outcomes are statistically significant. And I have not done a proper research, so I cannot cite any theories to support my conclusions. But I am getting the impression that, in general, when I smile more to one-timers, I get at least as much – and often times a lot more – of what I want out of them as I do from repeaters.


I happened to rush into another branch of my main bank today, and what a coincidence, she was there! I carried out my smile experiment on her, with a “hello” and a “please” and a “thank you in advance,” and just as I expected, she responded to my request with her best quality service. And, of course, with a big smile.


She did not seem to remember me, but I hope I will now have a little place in her memory as a pleasant encounter she had “on any given day.”


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