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Five groups of people I smile at when I am running

I am a big “smiler”. I smile at strangers in the street. I smile when entering a shop. I smile every time I make eye contact, no matter with whom. I have never done research on this, but I am aware of studies showing the transformative power of a smile.

And I like to smile when I am running. In fact, it is an important moment of human connection that builds my resilience and propels me for the next kilometre. I have talked about human connection while running in a previous InSPIre the Mind blog at the beginning of the pandemic.

While I do try to smile at everybody, I find myself going a long way in order to make eye contact and to smile at some people in particular.

It is not a choice I have rationally made, it is how my emotional, personal and professional experiences (I am a psychiatrist, for those of you who don’t know that) are instinctively guiding me at present. One day it may change.

In no particular order:

1. Other runners

You are the ones who truly know how much I am struggling and suffering, step after step. And I know your efforts, I see your sweating, huffing and puffing. But my empathy does not stop with the communion in physical efforts.

I smile and I am wondering — why are you running? What stresses and tensions are you running away from, or running through? What are you thinking at the moment? What are your emotions while you are running?

I hope you will feel better at the end of the run.

2. Pregnant women

You are probably fed up with one more person smiling at you, another stranger’s congratulations. But I can’t help it. You are so brave — bringing another person into the world.

I smile and I am thinking — how are you feeling? Are you happy? Are you scared? Do you have enough social, emotional and financial support to go through this challenge? As a perinatal psychiatrist I know that one in four pregnant women will experience some mental health difficulties: are you one of them? I wish I could ask you these questions. Offer my help.

But I can only wish you luck from the deepest of my heart.

3. Skateboarders

You are absolutely supercool. And supergood. And superfearless. You are fast. You jump. You do tricks. You slam, get up, dust off, and try again. And you are so much like my nephews.

I smile, and I am remembering — a London Summer in 2011. When my nephews were 10 and 12, and I was 45, and we started skateboarding together (I took private lessons with an instructor to minimise the risk of injury, and I still managed to break my rib). So many things have changed since then, but their skateboards are still in my flat.

So, I smile at skateboarders because they don’t know that this middle-aged smiling runner is an honorary member of their tribe. But I do.

4. Families with children

In any combinations of single or multiple parents or caregivers, the more children the better. Let’s be honest, I am probably the only one smiling at them, most people in the park will anticipate their loud noise and move away. But I embrace their appearance. I wink to parents to tell them I am on their side, they also need support! But it is the children I smile at.

I smile and I would like to know — who and what will you all become when you grow up? How are your lives going to be? What ups and down will you experience? What joys and sorrows? I was you, many moons ago, and all things considered I am happy with how things have turned out.

I hope you will be happy too.

5. Older people

I see you from a distance, walking slowly, perhaps with an aid, perhaps alone, perhaps with a dog, perhaps as an old couple. My first thought is to maintain distance, I don’t want to bump into you inadvertently, to spring on you and disrupt your unsteady gait. But I also want to smile at you.

I smile and I would like to tell you — how much I admire you for all the things you have done. That I am so curious about how your lives have been. That I am thinking of the happiness and the pain that you have experienced. The people you have lost. Your regrets. The ‘sliding doors’ moments that you are still thinking about.

And I know that one day I will be you, and I hope runners will smile at me.


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