Smiling at Strangers
Everyone enjoys compliments. Ususally one receives compliments as a reward for good work or other factors that promote one's visibility to others. Compliments most usually come from friends, acquaintances or those with some form of professional relationship. There are, of course, varying degrees of compliments, ranging from a fairly casual "I think what you've done is nice" to "Quite frankly, I have never seen anyone quite as amazing as you."
The modern, get-back-to-business-and-stop-wasting-time society lacks warm interaction between people. Affectionate compliments and interaction is reserved to occur between friends and family, and professional compliments are handed out in the workplace like formal letters of acknowledgement. It could be argued that this leads to the estrangement of people, where people withdraw to themselves when not in obvious company of potential compliment givers. This, in turn, leads to an unfriendly everyday existence.
It doesn't have to be that way.
There are countless reasons to compliment another person, even in broad daylight. No one is ever going to scorn you for giving an honest compliment. But how to do it without appearing "creepy" or "sick"? (Indeed, this attitude toward strangers is born out of our competitive, unfriendly society, where each has their own agenda) It is really quite simple. The only thing to do is smile. An honest look into someone's eyes and an encouraging smile will raise spirits in both parties. It is quite possible that the receiver of a smile will feel wholly better about themselves and perhaps cast off a worry for a while.
Stop and think. If another person would come, out of the blue when you're not doing much else, and say that you look good in your hat or that that sketch you've been doodling looks really good, what would it make you feel like? I personally might take it in two different ways, depending on how I'm feeling.
Case 1: I'm feeling great, heading over to a party, quite excited about coming events. Someone compliments my hat. I'd still get a little confused, but would stammer out a "Thanks, I like my hat too", smile and continue.
Case 2: I'm not feeling so great. It hasn't been a great day and I've still got a ton of stuff to do. I sit doodling something, and someone who walks by says they like it. "What business do they have looking at my stuff? "What do they really want from me?" That's what I would think, but I would probably say something positive to get them to walk away.
So, a full frontal verbal compliment might be intrusive. It might not, and some people would definitely enjoy a stranger saying positive things about them. To stay on the safe side, the smile option might be the best bet. It's not as obvious as saying something out loud, and will probably only be noticed if the target keeps his or her eyes open. Thus, the compliment probably would not interrupt anything important they may be doing.
Why would one compliment another in an everyday situation? The most obvious answer is looks. While certain faces are appealing to most people, each viewer has individual tastes. Thus, if a special-looking person happens to cross your path, why not signal them that their being produced a positive response in you? As stated previously, a positive signal from another human being can improve one's self image. Thus, if they are feeling good, they are more likely to then pass that positive feeling to another person.
The big issue with smiling at strangers is how to initiate it. One can't go around lock-jawed smiling at everyone, and since a smile can have a profound impact on someone it should be a clear enough signal. One of the best places to smile at a stranger is where there are sufficient numbers of people staying relatively still. Public transport is a possible candidate, as are cafés and places like bus stops. If a possible target is found, follow these steps.
Step One: Initiate eye contact
This is critical. A person will not notice that you are targeting them unless they see you do it. In previously mentioned public transport peoples' eyes tend to wander around, and if they see another pair of eyes, they will stop. Of course, one should not stare - this will turn away most people. It is critical to proceed from this step to the next immediately when eye contact is estabilished.
Step Two: Make the decision
You have sighted a person who looks interesting. Maybe he or she is pretty, maybe they're wearing something that appeals to you. Perhaps they look familiar? There is a hint of that teenage anxiety, of that "should I or shouldn't I" feeling at this point. Will they notice? What will they think? The only person who can decide whether you want to proceed beyond this point is you. Welling up a bit of courage and maybe some dumb positive radiance, you can proceed to the next step. Otherwise just move your eyes away.
Step Three: Go ahead and flash a smile
Don't be self-conscious. Everyone can smile, and everyone looks good with one plastered on their face if it's natural. One can't force a smile: If one comes, it comes and looks natural. I personally am self-conscious about the coloration of my teeth, but what matters with smiling at strangers is the fact that you actually smile. I personally am surprised when people smile at me, and would venture to guess that most other people feel it too. One doesn't look at another person's teeth at a moment of positive surprise.
Step Four: Don't overdo it. See the reaction
It's important to smile as long at it takes for the person to notice. There will always be some sort of reaction, ranging from a real smile back to you through a contraction of the pupils (not very visible, I know) all the way to a frown and a movement of the head away from you.
What will happen from this point onward can not be described in a work with this scope. It all depends on the parties involved. In the overwhelming majority of smiles that do indeed reach their target will probably promote a positive reaction. It may not be visible to you, but they will feel it. However, it is possible that this simple act of smiling at a stranger will spark conversation or even more. There's no telling until you try.