Speaking with Strangers

The Simple Pleasures of Connecting



Technology tends to isolate us from others, but science points to the real value in reaching out. On average, we come into contact with more than 100 people a day, but often may not make any real connection with them.

On a typical college campus, it’s rare to see a student not plugged in while walking from class to class. Saying “Hi” to an acquaintance or complimenting someone in passing is nearly impossible. These little day-to-day interactions could provide a steady source of simple pleasures for all if we regularly made the most of such opportunities.

Part of the reason we intentionally isolate ourselves might be the false belief that we’ll be happier by doing so, according to a recent University of Chicago study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. When subway riders were asked how they thought they would feel if they spoke to a stranger, nearly all of them predicted that the ride would be “less pleasant” than if they kept to themselves. After the ride, however, the results were unanimous: Those that spoke to another person reported having a more positive experience than those that sat in silence.

Parents teach children not to talk to strangers, but as adults, we miss a lot if we don’t. Even small talk can make a big difference in the quality of our day. It’s easy to try it to see if we don’t end up with a smile on our face.

It’s ironic that young people spend hours each day on social networking sites, texting others and making plans with friends so they won’t sit alone at night, yet are getting worse at making such connections face-to-face. Even seated at the same table, conversational eye contact is becoming a lost art, another casualty of technology.

Talking with others correlates with better communication skills, too. A 20-year study from Stanford University concluded that its most successful MBA graduates were those that showed the highest interests and skills in talking with others.

So, instead of shying away from chatting with a fellow commuter or asking a cashier how her day is going, say “Hello.” It’s bound to make everyone’s day better.


Violet Decker is a freelance writer in New York City. Connect at VDecker95@gmail.com.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Eat Right to Sleep Well

Rather than popping a pill, eating certain foods can kick-start hormones that help us get a long, deep night’s sleep.

We Need Clean Waters

Efforts are underway around the country to make polluted waterways clean again and to instill local appreciation for their many helpful roles.

Peter Gros on Preserving Wild Nature

The wildlife expert explains why we should appreciate wolves, snakes and bats and what he finds encouraging about an enlightened focus on wildlife protection.

Running with the Kids

Families with children as young as 5 easily bond when they mindfully run together at a fun pace.

Livable Communities We Love

Across the country, cities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Portland are finding fresh new ways to create engaging street life for residents while eco-upgrading their green spaces, services and infrastructure.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags