A half dozen recent studies demonstrate the power that connecting with strangers has to make us happier. Research also suggests that that talking to strangers makes us luckier.
In one study, researchers randomly assigned volunteers to talk to the strangers who sat down next to them on the train during their morning commutes. Pretty much no one thought they were going to enjoy giving up their solitude to make small talk with someone they didn’t know and would probably never see again. But guess what? The volunteers enjoyed their commutes 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 people 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.
Finally, research shows that even just acknowledging someone else’s presence by making eye contact and smiling at them helps people feel more connected. So yes: Talking to strangers strangely makes us happy.
Take Action: See how many strangers you can interact with today. Smile at the woman you pass getting on the bus. Chat up the barista. Compliment the grocery checker.
Join the Discussion: How does talking to strangers make you feel? Inspire others in the comments!
Great post, Christine. I love the study references. You might know that in my kindness classes I often offer as a theme doing something kind for someone you do not know. over the years, I’ve taken to explain that if we don’t talk to strangers, we’ll never meet anyone. Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote about this that has the added benefit of referencing a Tom Waits song, always a good thing in my opinion. 🙂 –Andy
I enjoy talking to strangers and have never been rebuffed. If someone smiles at me, I say “Thank you for your smile”. They seem to like this and I hope it encourages more smiles!
This is something I frequently do; from a greeting in passing on the street to a conversation on BART. It’s wonderful.
Every day I talk to strangers, and I love it. It does make me happier. I live in NYC and take mass transit. I told a woman on her cell phone loudly worrying about starting birth control about a book called Woman Code while we were in line at Whole Foods today. I homeschool my son, and the thing we do the most is talk to strangers in the city. It is usually a great experience — I can’t even think of a time when it wasn’t!
So . . . are you suggesting that Rick Springfield had it wrong???? 😉
Just kidding, of course. 🙂 Anyway, I agree. Talking to strangers is a positive thing, and sometimes can even be exhilarating.
I travel a fair bit for work, so if I didn’t talk to strangers, I would spend much of that time completely alone; which is fine, but not my preference. My favourites are taxi drivers and cleaning staff. I have learned a great deal and am humbled by the stories of other people’s lives. I agree with this tip of Christine’s completely. Even if you don’t feel like talking (are tired or unwell, perhaps) even a smile, a nod or looking into someone’s eyes renders them visible. you just might make their day!
As a mom with young kids, I wonder how to balance this with teaching my children boundaries with folks they don’t know.
Have you seen the book, Strangers Have the Best Candy? It will have you laughing and hoping it never ends. And when it does end, you’ll want to jump up and go talk to strangers immediately.
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