06/14/2013 09:45 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

What Goes Around Comes Around

Last Saturday as I came out of a restaurant and was walking to my car, another man was walking toward the restaurant on the same sidewalk. As we met, we smiled at each other and, in a spirited tone of voice, I said, "Hello, it's a beautiful day." That was an appropriate thing to say because we had had lots of rainy days, and this day was clear, sunny, and yet in the 70s. He replied, "Hello, how are you?" And he kept walking. That's not unusual. Many people do that. But it caused me to remember a professor at Yale Divinity School by the name of Robert Calhoun.

When you said to Dr. Calhoun, "How are you today?" he assumed that you actually wanted to know, and he proceeded to tell you how he was on that particular day--how his day was going so far, the good things and the disappointing things. And after he told you how his day had gone thus far, he, in turn, would say, "And how are you today?" And he would expect you to tell him how you felt and how your day had been going. Such an exchange would usually take three to five minutes.

Truth be known, the man who met me on the sidewalk outside the restaurant didn't give one iota how I felt. That's pretty typical these days. But I still remember, even as a busy student, how interesting and unique it was to hear Dr. Calhoun talk about how his day was going. And it was nice to have someone who cared about how my day was going and, if my day was not going well, who was genuinely concerned, taking the time to offer suggestions or to offer himself if there was anything he could do. Always a rewarding exchange!

In small towns in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri where I grew up, people pretty well knew one another and most of the time greeted each other with smiles and nice comments. Remembering that, I made a decision sometime ago that I have told no one about until now.

I decided that I would make it a habit to try to help people feel better about their day--people I am doing business with or people I meet on the sidewalk, the parking lot, or wherever. I smile and say "good morning" or "good afternoon." It's amazing how often they have a surprised look on their face and return my smile and cheerful words with a smile and some kind of a friendly greeting of their own. When I stop at Starbucks or the hardware or grocery story, I ask the checkout clerk something like, "How are things going for you today?" or "You look happy today" or "It's always refreshing to see your nice smile" or some such greeting. Most of them seem to appreciate someone who cares and frequently respond with such things as "Thanks for asking" or "How nice of you to say that" or "You've just made my day."

I'm reminded of the old saying "what goes around comes around." How true it is, and it not only works with uplifting remarks, it also works with grumpy, sarcastic, and unkind remarks. When you say such thing things to others, they are likely either to ignore you or come back at you with equally depressing, unkind, or inappropriate comments. That's a surefire way of filling your day with a lot of "downer" feelings.

Of course, there are those people who enjoy feeling grumpy and out of sorts and, either consciously or unconsciously, spend their time helping others feel the same way. But most of us enjoy being full of good feelings and are happy when others around us feel the same way.

A very good friend of mine works in a retail store where the employees are encouraged to access the company's special computer program to send "kudos" to one other for something a fellow worker has done that is unusually outstanding, helpful, or kind. My friend takes the time to write detailed and thoughtful kudos rather than just a quick "well done," "great job," or "thanks for helping." She definitely gets those messages across, but in a detailed way that indicates that she really does appreciate what the other person has done and wants him or her to know it. Her fellow workers say they love reading her kudos. What she does reminds me of my professor in divinity school--going that extra mile in taking the time to talk about what's going on in our lives.

You know, we need more of that--really showing other people that we care about them and how their day is going--how life is working out for them--or how much we appreciate the special and supporting things they say or do. Most of us need more happy, joyous, and grateful feelings in our lives.

So here's my suggesting for helping you feel better and more excited about your life: spend a few minutes each day helping others feel better about their day--a pleasant greeting and a smile; an uplifting e-mail or text message; a quick telephone call of a few caring, happy, or encouraging words; a simple wave or smile to a neighbor leaving or returning home; a short note or card in the mail expressing happiness and good cheer; kudos for fellow workers; and other things that you think of. Why not give it a try? And if this thing could catch on, just think what it could do for our families, neighborhoods, and entire communities! Hey, that sounds good to me!

Just keep that old saying in mind: "What goes around comes around."