An Easy Way to Brighten Someone’s Day: Use the 10/5 Way


Why do we underestimate the power of a smile? Why do we think that simple things cannot possibly make a large impact?

I have found that simple things are usually the easiest things to implement and lead to the strongest habits. The 10/5 Way is simple. When you pass someone within 10 feet smile, and within five feet say hello. It is amazing how such a simple act of courtesy can bring positive change.

Perks of a Small Town

I live in a small town, and one of the things I love about living in this beautiful rural community is the “wave.”

I’m not talking about the wave like at sporting events. I’m talking about an actual wave, or in most cases a or three finger wave from the steering wheel.

I’m not sure when the wave started, but I remember it from when I visited my grandparents here as a kid. I’m not sure who started it, nor would I even say it’s an unwritten rule about living here. But if you drive down the four mile stretch of road that leads into my community, chances are when you pass a car, you will be greeting with a wave.

So, what’s with the wave?

The town is full of friendly people and we genuinely like each other.

And more than that, because it doesn’t even matter if we know you or not. If my vehicle passes yours on that stretch of road, I will wave and smile. And so will others.

The Golden Rule

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – The Golden Rule

The Golden rule is such a simple, yet powerful concept, and one that can be practiced in everyday situations like driving in your car. I have had my moments of road rage and I am by no means perfect at living the ideal, but I do try to remember it. When I am driving I would want someone to let me in when I need to move over a lane. When I notice someone’s blinker I try to let them in. When I am on my way somewhere and I pass a car and make eye contact, a smile and a wave brightens my day.

So here’s a challenge. Next time you are driving, or grocery shopping, or waiting for the elevator, smile and say hello. It makes the mundane things far more enjoyable.

Happiness is Contagious

Have you noticed how emotions are contagious? They say that misery loves company, and while it is true that negative emotions are also contagious, they do not spread as easily as positive ones. Have you ever been around a genuinely joyful and happy person and not wanted to smile?

Nicholas Christakis a Harvard Medical School professor of medical sociology and medicine says, “Just as some diseases are contagious, we’ve found that many emotions can pulse through social networks.” The good news is, that unlike the flu, you can actually enjoy happiness. Christakis continues, “Rather than asking how we can get happier, we should be asking how we can increase happiness all around us. When you make positive changes in your own life, those effects ripple out from you and you can find yourself surrounded by the very thing you fostered.”

Happiness is worth spreading and and has benefits of catching.

According to Dr. James Fowler, “Previous research has shown that people who are happy have healthier hears, they have lower levels of stress hormones, and they live longer.”

The Ritz-Carlton Has it Right

The Ritz-Carlton hotel brand has become synonymous with five-star customer service. This reputation came to be not because of their luxurious furnishing or amenities, but because of their commitment to create an exceptional experience for their guests.

The company is credited with originally developing the 10/5 way which has now become a standard in the customer service industry.

The 10/5 Way

The premise is simple. When someone walks by:

  • Within ten feet, make eye contact and smile.
  • Within five feet, say hello.

The 10/5 way is also known as the Zone of Hospitality rule or 10/5 Rule. Many companies have adapted versions of this rule to improve friendliness, customer-service, and responsiveness.

Sam Walton instituted a similar policy for greeters at Walmart called the Ten-Foot Attitude. Disney theme park cast members are also encouraged to make eye contact, smile, greet, and welcome each guest as part of Disney’s Seven Service Guidelines.

While these policies were created for business use, there is no reason we can’t use them and achieve the same results (increased positive interaction with others).

Reasons to Be Cheerful

  • People like to be liked.

We like to feel important and respected. Everyone likes to be liked and to feel important.

One of my friends is a Human Resources specialist, and in one of our conversations she said something I found fascinating. People quit people before people quit jobs.

Think about that for a second. Have you ever stayed at a job you didn’t like because you loved the people that you worked with? Have you ever quit a lob you liked because you couldn’t stand the people you worked with? Now think about other aspects of your life. Have you found new hobby’s or joined or left groups because of the quality of your relationships with members of that community?

How many kids have quit a sport because they had a bad experience with a coach or a teammate? How many kids can’t wait to go to school after the summer because they want to see their friends?

Relationships are an integral part of our lives.

  • Likability is a Predictor of Success

Likability can be a predictor of success. Sue Shellenbarger states, “Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven.”

In Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends & Influence People, Carnegie’s points out that we are much more likely to feel warmly toward a person who sincerely makes us feel good about ourselves.

We like to be around likable people.

Now there is a big difference between a person who is being “nice” with an ulterior motive (trying to get something), and a kind person. Kind beats nice every time.

Think of how even simple acts of courtesy affect you. How do you feel when others take the time to:

  • make eye contact
  • smile
  • greet you by name
  • listen
  • show sincere interest
  • use a pleasant tone of voice
  • use manners: say please, thank you, and sorry
  • give compliments
  • practice compassion
  • and give consideration to multiple viewpoints

I know I am far more willing to invest in someone who cares about me than someone who is looking for personal gain or someone who has a “what’s in it for me?” mentality.

  • The Act of Smiling Affect Performance

In Shawn Achor’s article on, he talks about the steps the Louisiana-based company Ochsner Health System made after hurricane Katrina to raise positivity within their network of 11,000 health care providers, administrators, salespeople, and staff. They implemented the 10/5 Way.


As a researcher Achor was skeptical. “Would people find the smiling to be inauthentic and forced?” Would the time spent saying hello be a distraction from what they were supposed to be doing? Would negative employees find a loophole and simply walk eleven feet away?

At first, many of the doctors and hospital staff were skeptical as well. Smiling couldn’t possibly affect the underlying performance of a hospital.

There were some individuals that were hard to reach at first. But over time, when resistant, negative doctors walked down the hallway, something changed. People said hello or smiled at them, both employees and patients and they started mirroring their behavior.

Have you noticed how when someone says hello or smiles at you, your automatic reaction is to say hello or smile back? That’s exactly what happened to the negative doctors. “Eventually, they started adopting the 10/5 Way—even if they weren’t fully aware they were doing it.”

The Best Doctors

Who are the best doctors? Are they the ones with the most specialized knowledge or most advanced degrees?

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, research showed that the best doctors are the ones who know how to connect with their patients. The ones with a good “bed-side manner.”

Patients not only found the doctor likable, but patients who feel connected to their doctors are more likely to follow the treatment regimen prescribed and return for important checkups.

  • The Simple Act of Smiling Can Also Raise Your Social and Emotional Intelligence

There is scientific proof that you can also raise your social and emotional intelligence by smiling.

When David Havas and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin had participants flex the facial muscles involved in smiling, he found that merely simulating a smile reduced their ability to get angry at another person. On the flip side, when people used the muscles associated with frowning, they had a harder time being social.

Here is a challenge for you. Try to talk to someone either on the phone or in person while you are smiling and try to sound mad. Can you do it? It’s nearly impossible.

In addition, researchers have found that when you smile, your brain releases the neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine is associated with improving your mood and your reality.

What We Focus on Becomes Our Reality

Have you ever been outside in the winter with some friends and you realize that you feel cold? You turn to your friends and comment about how cold it is. By commenting on the cold you’ve now made your brain more conscientious of the cold and then you feel even colder. What we focus on becomes our reality.

If we focus on the negative, then negativity is our reality.

If we focus on the positive and make an effort to be friendly and considerate, then those things become our reality.

Small and Simple

Big changes are hard to make. Small and simple changes are much easier to make, and much easier to spread to others.

The 10/5 Way is just that. Simple to use, easy to implement, and effective in practice.

Want to try it?

Next time you go to the store or to work, or even as a social experiment for the next twenty-four hours, smile at everyone who comes within ten feet. For bonus points, say hello when others walk within five feet. You may just brighten someone’s day. And don’t be surprised if some of the people around you pick up these habits without even being aware of it.

“Happiness is contagious and advantageous” – Shawn Achor


  1. Achor, Shawn. (2014). Retrieved from
  2. Patrick Betdavid. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Performance in People. (2014). Retrieved from
  4. Shellenbarger, Sue. (2014). Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Krista Palo

I'm Krista, the owner and creator of Evolve. I have a masters degree in Business Administration and I am passionate about development, motivation, and change. I love stories in all of their forms, and believe in continuous learning and the power of positivity.

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2 thoughts on “An Easy Way to Brighten Someone’s Day: Use the 10/5 Way

  1. I love this! Such a simple thing in practice but SO meaningful! I can list numerous examples of where someone else’s simple treatment of me brightened my day or caused me to behave in a more outgoing, friendly manner. It can actually make a huge difference. I have to say, I do miss The Wave. I grew up in a small town, too, and The Wave was common there also. I haven’t really seen it for years. It’s such a small thing but it’s uplifting.

    • I love simple things, because they are simple to actually use. The great thing about smiling and being positive is that it’s good for you! There is no reason why not to give it a try. Even if you’re shy you can smile, you don’t have to start a conversation but a smile is contagious. It truly is the simple things that can bring pleasure to life.