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Happiness Tip: Smile at the Barista

Did you know that research show that a even brief connection with a stranger can make us happier? In one study, researchers randomly assigned volunteers to talk to the stranger who sat down next to them on the train during their morning commute. Pretty much no one thought that they were going to enjoy giving up their morning solitude to make small talk with someone they didn’t know and would probably never see again. But guess what? The volunteers enjoyed their commute more than the people in the study who got to read their books and finish their crossword puzzles in silence. What’s more, not a single study participant was snubbed. Other research indicates that the strangers being chatted up in public spaces similarly think they won’t want to talk, but then end up enjoying themselves.

In another study, researchers measured how much participants enjoyed interacting with people they barely knew, and how much they enjoyed connecting with loved ones. Turns out that interacting with both types of people made both introverts and extroverts happier—and the more social interactions they had, the happier people were.

Yet another series of studies produced similar results. Researchers sent people into a Starbucks with five dollars each to buy themselves a latte. Half were instructed to get their beverage as fast as they could, to “get in, get out, go on with the day.” The other half were instructed to “have a genuine interaction with the cashier”—to smile and initiate a brief conversation. The folks who smiled at the barista left Starbucks feeling more cheerful. In the words of the study authors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn: “Efficiency, it seems, is overrated.”

Here is your challenge, should you choose to accept it:

Every day in the coming week, slow down just enough to make eye contact with someone, smile, and, if you’re feeling brave, start a little conversation. Research shows that even just acknowledging someone else’s presence by making eye contact and smiling at them helps people feel more connected.

This short video and post is from a series about social connections from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing LessWant to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!