The other day, I was grabbing gas for my car. As it is a mountaineering, 4-wheel drive moderate monstrosity, filling up its tank gives ample time to contemplate life’s meaning at the pump. A man at the adjacent pump was waiting for his own tank to fill. He noticed my Atlanta Braves bumper sticker, and we exchanged some friendly banter about our opposing teams.
The gas flow being cut off signaled the end of our chat and as we got into our separate cars, he called out, “Have a good day, sweetheart.”
While a fairly normal thing to say at the end of a conversation, this particular instance stayed in my mind. This man knew nothing about me, other than which baseball team I support and that I like driving a car that looks ever-ready for a camping trip. Yet he wanted me to have a good day. I know this by the sincerity with which he said those words. His farewell was noticeably different from ones we call out to strangers — he seemed to really mean it. And it struck me then, more so than past circumstances, what do we mean when we tell someone to have a good day?
Over half the time, it’s a throwaway phrase because it’s just what you say at the end of an exchange or transaction. Do we really want our barista to have a good day when he hands us our latte? Or are we just saying it because not doing so is akin to not paying for the drink altogether? Do we have a fear that if we neglect to return the “you, too,” the Etiquette Police will fall from the sky and deem us unfit for humanity?
It’s so commonplace to say those few words that we hardly notice even saying it. Our lips may be forming the words but in our minds, we’re already onto the next thing. The commonality of the expression has demeaned it so much to the point that we’re better off just not saying it. We say it so automatically that the lack of feeling in the sentence displays that no, we actually could not care less if you have a good day. Our exchange ended after you rendered this service for me, and I do not need to know how your day progresses after I leave you.
But what if we started to mean it? Certainly when we tell our mothers on the phone to have a good day or send that in a cheery text to a significant other, we probably are hoping they have a day that’s productive and happy. But what about to strangers? In a typical day, we interact in a variety of ways with numerous people. Everyone from cashiers to bakers, cab drivers and police officers, the man at the front desk, the teenager bagging your groceries. I once drove a car that even wished me a good day after parking it, and that left me all warm and fuzzy inside.
What if we started to take these interactions more seriously? If we put meaning behind the words ‘have a good day’ to total strangers? If we showed the barista that we were appreciative of how speedily he made our order and that we truly did want him to have a good day? You never know what kind of day people are having. Everyone wakes up with worries and frustrations. There’s no way we could ever take time to learn about all these with every person throughout during the day. But in a small way, wishing them a good day and truly meaning it is a way to reach them. Maybe she just lost her job and her rent is overdue, and her day is anything but ‘good’. Maybe the last thing she feels like doing is ringing up the organic foods you can afford to buy, but she can’t. What if you took two seconds to be appreciative? What if you made her feel valued? What if instead of rushing to the exit, you took time to look in her eyes and wish her a good evening? Could that change her whole outlook, even if only for a moment?
It sounds largely utopian, but I think it should just be a basic part of humanity. Don’t we have a responsibility as fellow humans to look out for one another?Everyone tackles new giants every day; wouldn’t it be nice knowing the stranger you just passed wished you success? It’s the idea that out of 24 hours in a day, we take a few of those seconds to be intentional and considerate. Words are powerful, and using them to show another person has worth & value can make the difference between a good day and a bad day.
And that can be life changing.