The Golden Rule pervades cultures and religions throughout world history as the ideal of human behavior. It’s always phrased prescriptively, as something you ought to do: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, or in negative terms, “do not do to others what you would not have them do unto you”.
It’s interesting (to me anyway – but, it’s my blog) to consider what a descriptive phrasing of it might be: “as you do unto others so will they do unto you – and/or someone else”.
Humans are an extremely social animal. We base our behavior on what those around us do – and so does everyone else. This means that you have more influence than you’ve probably realized. When you’re out in public, everything you do sets an example to those around you. If you throw away a piece of litter from a parking lot, hold the door for the next person, keep clear of a driveway when you have to stop for a light so that others can make their turn, or return your grocery cart to the corral instead of leaving it between cars, you make it more likely that others will do these things too – or the opposite, if you are seen not to do them. These seem insignificant but it is little things like this that can actually make a big difference in someone else’s day, and in how they treat the next person they come across. A small stone makes ripples that reach across an entire pond…
If you merely smile at someone, they will almost infallibly smile back. It’s such a simple easy thing, that it seems difficult to believe what a profound impact smiling can have.
According to the 1998 article “Effects of Self-Generated Facial Expressions on Mood”, by C.L. Kleinke, T.R. Peterson, and T.R. Rutledgein in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, pp. 272-279:
A number of research studies have shown that making a facial expression, such as a smile, can produce effects on the body that are similar to those that result from the actual emotion, such as happiness.
As found in other studies, facial expressions did affect the participants’ mood: Mood did not change in the control group who simply viewed the expressions. Participants who matched the positive expressions experienced a positive change in mood (they were in a more positive mood after making positive facial expressions) and participants who matched the negative expressions experienced a negative change in mood.
And from “Happiness helps people stay healthy”, New Scientist, 18 April 2005, by Shaoni Bhattacharya:
Previous studies have shown that depression is associated with health problems compared to average emotional states. But few studies have looked at the effects of positive moods on health. Now, researchers at University College London, UK, have linked everyday happiness with healthier levels of important body chemicals, such as the stress hormone cortisol.
Feeling happy has other physiological benefits as well – decrease in blood pressure, release of endorphins – that help your body stay healthy. You can make both yourself and someone else actually feel happier, and healthier, just by smiling at them (as long as they smile back!). And since they’re now feeling happy, they’ll probably smile at the next person they see, and so on. Try it!