Running Series Part 2: The Good News About Smiles and Pleasant Greetings

This is part two of a three-part running series. Read part one here.

“We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do.” – Mother Theresa

 

Many people know that I have only been running for 4 years.  It’s not something that I came to naturally and I have to push myself to hit my weekly mileage goal.  I enjoy running for many reasons but it is still a bit of a struggle, so I have come to look for sources of inspiration where I can find them.  Over the past 4 years, I’ve come to realize how much I value the smiles and greetings from people I encounter along my running paths.  I have noticed how those interactions give me a quick pick-me-up but apparently when I respond with a hello and a smile I’m actually causing a beneficial chemical reaction in my brain.  According to research, “When our smiling muscles contract, they fire a signal back to the brain, stimulating our reward system, and further increasing our level of happy hormones, or endorphins. In short, when our brain feels happy, we smile; when we smile, our brain feels happier.”[1]

My interactions during my morning runs differ from my afternoon runs.  I often encounter the same people during my morning run.  In the morning there seems to be a mutual instinct to greet one another as the day begins.  Almost everyone I pass in the morning greets me as I am greeting them with a cheery “good morning”.  There was one woman I used to see regularly out walking her dog.  She’d always greet me with a bright smile and often a quick comment and I looked forward to seeing her.  I find when I run in the afternoon people are not as likely to say hello.  Often I will acknowledge them and then they will respond.  Every once in a while, they don’t respond at all, lost in their own thoughts.  Even my son doesn’t acknowledge me if he is running past me in a 5k – he tells me he is too busy concentrating!

Recently, at the beginning of one of my runs, a biker turned to me with a huge smile and gave me two thumbs-up.  I laughed and thanked him because I loved it and I chuckled about it multiple times over the course of that run – triggering lots of endorphins.  When I ran on vacation this summer I still remember a sweet woman who was out walking and how much her lovely smile made me happy and took my mind off the oppressive heat, helping to spur me on that day.  Occasionally, I’ve even gotten high fives from other runners – those also trigger lots of endorphins!

As simple as these gestures are, the science confirms why all of these kinds of interactions make my runs more enjoyable (and sometimes just more endurable).  They are certainly appreciated.  I am grateful for these small acts of kindness that require so little effort but really do provide me with an added boost of energy.  So the next time you greet a runner, know that you may actually be helping them get through their run with just a simple hello, wave, smile, or thumbs-up all the while getting a positive boost yourself!

[1]  What’s the science behind a smile?: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/famelab-whats-science-behind-smile

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The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

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