Drive-by Smiling


Give people smiles while driving! They will smile back at you. Certainly road-rage frowns, middle fingers in the rear view mirror, exasperated honking, and bumper-to-bumper stalking will work too, but the result of that work will get you more worked up and stressed.

I believe we can choose. Yes, you too can choose. Admittedly, no matter how much we think, prepare or talk about how we ought to behave in unpleasant situations actually putting it into practice is a completely different experience. That is if we even remember that we are in an unpleasant situation. We identify ourselves with our experiences, bad or good. Doing what we’ve always done and being ‘who we are’ are irresistible tendencies we follow, especially during stressful events such as road rage. We autopilot through most of our reactions to perceived or real dangers out there. Being yelled at or abused in any other way, even by a complete stranger in busy traffic, usually takes us to fight or flight thinking. And the last thing most of us think is to smile back at the source of the attack. But if we do, unexpected things might happen.

Being aware of our thinking when something traumatic happens is for most of us difficult simply because the distressing event preoccupies our thoughts and feelings in creating a response to it. I’ve been there many times myself. We react by being upset and retaliate in whichever way we can against the offenders. It all feels very personal. Although when you really think of it being in an aerodynamically shaped heap of metal on wheels one can hardly think of a more impersonal environment. And yet, we say, “That Volvo is nuts! Did you see how she cut me off?! I can’t believe this Kia, some people should just not be let behind the wheel. Oh my God, this Ford pickup is a maniac, I’m calling the cops!” All this in a bid to protect our ego’s sense of security and worthiness.  What else can be done?

I know it’s not easy accepting abuse. As my father used to say, you never know who’s behind the other wheel. They can have a shotgun, or indeed they can be crazy. But assuming the worst will not only prepare us for the worst. Assuming the worst usually means expecting the worst, and that may bring about the worst.

Smile at people as you drive by, smile at them as they look at you while standing at traffic lights, or smile at that someone smiling at you in the rear view mirror. Even before you come across an irritation, a bad driver, or you become the source of evil for someone else, smile. The difference you will experience will be amazing. Some people will just look away, some will give you a querying look as if to say, “Something wrong with you?”, but most will smile back. If you fear that you might attract a stalker by smiling at people, think again how real this fear is. By all means do practice drive-by smiling responsibly. Do what feels right in a particular situation and you will be alright. If someone’s leering at you and calling you sexy, you’re probably not going to give them any acknowledgement. But if yelling at someone feels right as a frustration vent, smiling at someone as a frustration vent will feel great. And since we’re always better behaved when around strangers, drive-by smiling should come natural.

Even when you get a reminder at the lights in the form of a honk from behind telling you that the green light has come on, be the smiling face in the rear view mirror. Even if you do end up in a road-rage situation, smile back. Do a drive-by smiling! Simply brush the abuse aside, and accept it as nothing personal. You can use tricks to help you out like lowering the rear view mirror to avoid being aware of the flashing lights or turning your radio volume up to drown out the sound of honking, or anything else for that matter that will blunt the sense of being under attack. You will find however that smiling beats it all. And the best part of it is that when you smile at someone, you smile at yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up when you catch yourself reacting negatively to something. Believe in your power to smile.  Instead of drive-by shouts and drive-by frowns, let’s riddle each other with drive-by smiles.

Please do blame the author if as a result of practicing drive-by smiling your daily commute becomes interesting, or you meet truly wonderful people, or you end up hugging complete strangers even though you’re running late for work stuck in a traffic jam. Happy Holidays, happy drive-by smiling!


  1. I like waving to strangers in cars. Most of time, they think I’m crazy. Some smile and wave back even though they don’t know me. (I think they almost assume they do, but don’t remember me.) Why not, it makes me smile.

    • I have practiced this for some time now, and like yourself, if it makes me smile, regardless of others’ responses, why not, say I.

  2. My first teacher used to say that you shouldn’t go outside in the morning with a grim look on your face, you would be spreading a terrible contagious disease into the world. On the other hand, he said that a smile is like your seat-belt in the car – it keeps you safe in the world and spreads a protective layer around you wherever you go. Thanks for your great article!
    with Smile!

    • I appreciate your comment. For every one who believed there will be more who through their words have come to believe too. Spread the word!

  3. One of the things I miss the most about living in North Dakota is that people in the rural parts of the state “waved” at each other driving down the road–a simple lift the forefinger from the steering wheel in a symbol of solidarity and recognition. Smiling does the same thing. We are relational people after all! Thanks for your good words. They made me smile.


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