I don't have a smartphone and I rarely listen to my podcasts when I'm on the go. I spend so much time in front of the computer and on the internet that when I go out, whether I'm walking or taking public transport, I want to make sure I am fully engaged with what I'm doing, taking in other people and my surroundings. (At the end of last year I was particularly open to everything going on around me and I recorded my impressions on Audioboo.)
Yesterday I read a piece of research that confirmed how easy it is to let life go by and why sometimes it can pay off to be in the moment, literally. In this experiment, the researchers planted money in a tree and saw how many passers by noticed it. Of those people who were on their mobiles, only 6% noticed. But it's not just our devices which prevent us from noticing the little things that make life richer, our minds also work as blinkers: 20% of people not on a mobile phone also failed to notice the money on trees. (You can read more on this experiment on the British Psychological Society's blog's article "Would You Walk Past a Money Tree?".)
Don't get me wrong. There are times when it's great to be lost in your own little world. There are times when we're so exhausted from being with others, that having the ability to shut off the world becomes our most treasured talent. But when it comes to our interaction with other people, I really think we miss out on a lot if we're not fully present. Let me show you what I mean with one of my Heathrow adventures.
On one of my last trips to Madrid, I popped into the Boots at Heathrow T5 to get some Ricola sweets. (They're pretty yummy and great to stop the tickle in the throat which I fear will turn into an uncontrolled cough while I'm sitting on a plane.)
I went to the counter to pay, and as the nice man at the counter handed me my change he said:
"Have a good flight."
To which I replied.
"And you have a good day."
His face lit up.
"Ah," he said. "Most people just automatically say "you too" when I say "have a nice flight", but you actually thought about it."
A simple exchange that brightened someone's day. And all I really did was pay attention.