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The 2017 Summer Reading Program’s theme is “Build a Better World.” As we met and planned the program, we realized there are many different ways to build a better world. Human interaction that fosters connection is one of the smallest yet most important things we can do. Opportunities for connection with others exist all around us—at work, in our neighborhoods, even standing in the checkout line. Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education explains that even the simple act of smiling activates compassion, a powerhouse emotion that can actually help ease tension and foster emotional connection for those we interact with. Connecting with others has helped our species survive—and may well help us make it in the future.

With this in mind, we created Summer Reading Challenges that would help encourage us to take these small steps towards connection such as smile at 10 people in one day or sincerely say thank you. Here are some of the responses we received that have warmed our hearts.

“All the people I smiled at smiled back! It helped my attitude be happier as well.”

“By smiling at others I was forced to look up instead of just listening to music and walking with my head down. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine more and to see the happy look on people's faces when I smiled at them.”

“As I thanked people, it made me realize how awesome they are and how grateful I am for them.”

“I contacted my Cosmetology teacher and told her that I appreciated all of the hard work that she has done for me in helping me earn a degree only five months after graduating high school.”

“I left a note for my daughter to tell her that she is amazing and I love her.”

“I know from experience that when someone is really grateful for something you did for them, it makes you happy that you could make them happy. I hope that by thanking people I let them know how much I appreciate them and everything they do for me.”

“I wrote handwritten thank you cards for my recent birthday gifts. I think it's nice to send something tangible to those who think of you. I know I love getting real mail, so I hope they do, too.”

“Whenever you smile at someone and they smile back you always feel happier.  I love turning a frown into a smile. By smiling, I am happier.”

These are just a few of the hundreds of responses we have received, and we have truly loved reading all responses from our summer readers to see how dedicated they are to building a better world.

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