On a lark, I called my cousin whom I adore and barely see. We decided too much time had passed – like 4 years — and with just 48 hours notice – we made a dinner date.
My husband and I bundled up in our ski sweaters and boots and drove over the George Washington Bridge to meet cousin Freddy and his wife Arlene.
We arrived early because what we perceived as an hour trek and trip to avoid, crossing the GW bridge, which is always jammed, turned out to be a quick 25 minutes.
We tucked into our table and waited.
When they came through the front door, my heart lifted. We hugged and seamlessly fell into each other’s worlds. We sat for hours in their neighborhood Trattoria.
And what was immediately noticeable was how the effect of connecting with our cousins, whom we both adore, made us feel great –in fact quite happy. I thought, “Why haven’t we seen them more often — this is so fun.”
I read a piece in Psychology Today that supports the belief that the more connections or interactions you have in a day with those you have “strong ties” with, the happier you feel. However, interactions with “weaker ties” like the barista or holding a door for a stranger, giving a seat to elders (or having someone give one to you) can also give you a lift.
And that got me thinking about spontaneous connecting and why that may not happen every day.
I know for one, I like to have a plan – a schedule – even a routine. I love knowing that I have a date on the calendar with a friend, a trip planned or even my regular walks, runs and yoga classes.
But that said, planning and schedules can get in the way of that brush with “humanity.” It’s hard to take in the world when you’re so focused on your self-prescribed path and it’s easy to miss some of life’s greatest pleasures.
I was sharing these thoughts with my friend Peggy and she offered up a story.
On her runs in Central Park when she sees people trying to take selfies she sometimes steps out of her zone and stops. She thinks, no one looks that good in a selfie and who wouldn’t rather have someone else take the shot.
“Would you like me to take your picture?”
They are surprised and thrilled at her generosity and she says it makes her feel happy every single time.
“What a great thing to remember to do,” I thought.
We both agreed – this fell into the category of a spontaneous act of kindness.
Just last week, my friend Debby and I were out shopping for our friend’s party. We were roaming around Saks looking for dresses and a 50-something undistinguishable woman was looking at the same rack.
“Isn’t this stuff weird. Who are they designing this stuff for?” she said, totally dismayed.
“Well it looks kind of trendy but there must be something here – what do you think is so weird?” I asked.
She held a dress up and said, “Look at this one – what is this thing? ”
It was a knee length silk dress with a kimono style print on the back and an alternate print on the left front side. It had a half band of orange at the waist. It actually looked like a piece of art. Tokyo meets Paris to my mind.
As she stood there holding the dress against her slim figure I said, “Actually, that dress could be amazing on you – you should try it on.”
She laughed and looked at it again – and said she would give it a go. “My friend and I told her we were heading to the shoe department and to come over and model it for us.”
Meanwhile deep into our 6th box of shoes and having an hysterical time playing dress up – the woman walked in with a huge smile on her face and a spring in her step. She looked bright and happy and very sophisticated, and much prettier than the woman we’d met moments earlier.
“What do you think?” she spun around like a young girl.
Debby and I were getting such a kick out of her. She loved her new dress and thanked us and even invited us to go out with her, gave us her card after sharing a bit of her life with us.
Deb and I looked at each other – now deep into some cool platform shoes and laughed out loud.
“That was a riot!” We agreed we are definitely not personal shoppers, but we made that woman’s day.
It was a spontaneous act of kindness – taking us away from our shopping bubble – our friend date and threatening to cut into our precious time together. But – we just let the interaction flow into our space and we made this woman’s day a bit more joyful – and it added to ours as well.
Happiness was as easy as that.