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Talking to Strangers Can Promote Well-Being

Do you underestimate how enjoyable it is to meet new people?

Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
Source: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

One thing that helps promote well-being is our social connections. Although bad relationships can, of course, undermine our health and well-being, and different people enjoy different amounts of social interaction, we often feel better when we spend time with others, share experiences, and talk about our lives with people we are close to.

Boosts to well-being can also occur when we try to make new friends. However, research suggests that people underestimate the well-being benefits of interacting with strangers.

In a series of studies, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder asked commuters on buses and trains to either strike up a conversation with people they didn’t know or just sit quietly by themselves. The researchers found that although people tended to believe that they would have a more positive experience when they kept to themselves, commuters reported more positive experiences when they connected with other passengers.

My friend, Aaron*, writes poetry. Aaron suffers from periodic bouts of depression and before I had ever mentioned anything to him about Epley and Schroeder’s research, he wrote a poem about how connecting with strangers helps to elevate his mood. I’d like to share Aaron’s poem and thank him for allowing me to do so. We hope you enjoy it.

Please indulge me in this brief reflection,
On the importance of casual human connection.
I’m talking about something we were taught was a danger,
Stopping and talking to a stranger.
You may think connection’s about family and friends,
Well I’m suggesting you widen your lens.
Casual encounters can’t be dismissed.
They are very important I must insist.

Why is that? I hear you ask.
Well explaining it is no easy task.
And I’m no expert, I’m not terribly wise,
So do bear with me while I hypothesize.
First it means you’re seen, you feel you belong.
Talk to enough strangers and it won’t be long
Till you realize you’re part of a community.
It provides you with the opportunity
To develop a kind of “loneliness immunity.”
A second thing that’s true for me
Is my thoughts often tend to negativity.
A brief chat with anyone breaks the loop,
Allowing me time to mentally regroup
I can get into a better groove after the interruption
This at least is my deduction.

So if like me your thoughts tend to the dark
Why not go for a walk in the park?
Make sure you don’t walk too fast,
And say hello to everyone you pass.
And if it feels right strike up a conversation
It doesn’t have to be of long duration
It can be about weather but avoid flirtation
And no politics if you want a warm response
Trust me, I know, I’ve made this mistake more than once.

I guarantee it’ll lift your mood,
Leave you feeling a little renewed.
Think of it as social health food
Elevating your attitude.

And one more thing before I forget
A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t yet met

* Aaron is not their real name

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