Talking to strangers can make you happy

Your Mental Health with Linda Hamilton, Cognitive-behavioral therapist

WHEN was the last conversation you had with a stranger? Does it sound awkward and isn’t it worth it? Would you be surprised to learn that talking regularly with strangers can make you happier?

And yet, the research is clear on this – whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, engaging in brief conversations with strangers is more enjoyable than you might think and good for your well-being.

For example, some study participants were asked to have an ‘authentic interaction’ with their cashier in a cafe, that is, ‘smile, make eye contact to make connection and have a relationship. brief conversation ”. The other participants in the experiment were asked to be as efficient as possible in their dealings with the cashier, to have their money on hand and to “avoid unnecessary conversations”.

Subsequently, people who had social interaction with the barista reported a more positive mood and a greater sense of belonging than those who did not engage in a conversation.

In another study, a group of people were asked to talk to strangers on their morning train or bus commute to work; other groups were asked to stay alone or to commute normally. Afterwards, people who hooked up with strangers felt better than those who didn’t. They enjoyed the conversations and formed positive impressions of the people they spoke to, with the average conversation lasting over 14 minutes.

Various other studies have reported similar results, which begs the question: if we feel happier after talking with strangers, why don’t we do it more often?

Sometimes we can be too busy and distracted to do this. As you line up for your morning coffee, you might be thinking about all the chores you need to do today, so much so that the opportunity to make the occasional social connection doesn’t even come your way. spirit.

Smartphones are another factor. Scrolling through Facebook, reading the latest headlines, listening to a podcast – people are getting more and more engrossed in their cell phones these days.

Wrong fears

However, there are other more important factors. First, people are worried that strangers will not want to talk to them. For example, participants in the aforementioned study estimated that only about 40% of their train mates would be willing to talk to them. In fact, every participant who tried to talk to a stranger found the person sitting next to them happy to chat.

Now skeptical readers might think, yes, but maybe they were just polite, maybe they were privately thinking, “I wish this person would stop barking and let me read my journal.”

However, this is usually not the case; researchers found that people who were spoken to reported equally positive experiences as those who were asked to speak.

Second, it’s not just that we think other people won’t like talking with us; we also think we won’t like it. Before speaking with strangers on their journey, people were asked about their expectations of the meeting. They predicted that hooking up with a stranger would be an unpleasant and unproductive use of time.

“People seem to ignore strangers because they mistakenly think that establishing a connection with them would be systematically unpleasant,” the study notes, “while isolation would be pleasant.”

These predictions turned out to be very wrong. No wonder the study is titled Mistakenly Seeking Solitude.

However, these fears are understandable. After all, striking up a conversation with strangers can seem awkward, even intimidating. Indeed, even after people reported surprisingly positive experiences, they tended to fear that the next conversation would go wrong.

What this shows is that while having a weird conversation with a stranger is fine, it’s a better idea to make a habit of doing it on a regular basis. Over time, you become more confident and you are less afraid of rejection.

The word “habit” is essential because you don’t have to be a good conversationalist to talk to strangers. Eventually speaking with people you don’t know becomes something you do out of habit, without the old fears.

Treating strangers as if they could become acquaintances is a good idea. “Minimal social interactions,” as one study puts it, can be a “hidden source of belonging and happiness”.

To seek solitude by mistake, to use that expression, is, well, a mistake.

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