What would happen if we all gave a little more? If we acted more on impulse and bought those flowers, responded to that smile or stretched out our hand to a stranger at the moment the thought entered our head? Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything.

Brief encounters have a way of staying with you and almost magically opening up an entire world. Moments of mutual respect and humanity before we hurry off with our lives. I don’t know about you, but I can still remember eyes and hands that have stretched out to me in kindness over the course of my life. Spontaneous episodes that have enriched my day at moments I least expected, when I accidentally met someone and felt a kinship that made my day.

Unfortunately we often block such impulses. We underrate ourselves and rely more on what is expected rather than what we would like to do. There is a wonderful expression in French, esprit d’escalier, to describe the feeling that comes over you when inspiration comes too late, when the moment has passed and you are left alone in your thoughts. It is usually used when you miss a chance to tell someone off, but could just as well apply when the opportunity to do something good slips away. (Films are full of witty remarks. The right line at the right moment, which in reality took a screenwriter months to get right but seem so natural when Mel Gibson says them.)

If you look back at history, nothing would be as we know it if people hadn’t acted on their impulses. Think back on your own life and you will probably find plenty of chance encounters that have played important roles. Twists of fate that are now the only explanation why things turned out as they did. It is fascinating to think that similar coincidences take place all the time. It’s just that we don’t always realize it.

My two sons used to love to hear the story of how our family came together as a result of a lie about two movie tickets. Their mother’s father was walking down the street in downtown Stockholm one day with a friend when he spotted two pretty girls. He walked up to them and said that he and his friend were stuck with a couple of extra movie tickets after their buddies backed out. Would they like to go instead? Sure, they said, why not. Well, their grandfather rushed in to buy four tickets and fifty years later his impulsive act had produced a great marriage, three children and eight grandchildren.