Statistics show we are lonelier than ever. Despite what we might think – talking to a stranger can make our day, and theirs.
It’s hard to remember a time when you actually had to withdraw cash from a bank teller or pay at a real-life checkout. In an increasingly-connected world – where dates are swiped on and hangouts are on Google – our hours of face-to-face contact are dwindling. On the one hand, we’re all busy and this streamlining tends to mean faster, easier and more efficient. But, on the other hand, if the loneliness epidemic is anything to go by, this social isolation could be taking a very real toll.
Throw in the fact that more people are choosing to live alone and work remotely than ever, it is easy for many of us to go an entire day without a real-life conversation. Yet, one study showed that people who interact face-to-face with others they don’t know well – “weak ties” – are happier than those who don’t. What’s more, a 2015 study, found that loneliness and social isolation can even place you at risk for early mortality.
This is something Yale psychology professor Dr Laurie Santos addresses in her podcast The Happiness Labin the episode titled, “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude” in which she explores how acting “extrovertedly” by making small talk among strangers “generally leads to greater positive effect” in most instances, despite what our intuition might be telling us.
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“Most people think a simple chat with a stranger will be awkward and not very good for well-being, but it turns out that simple connection with people we don’t know feels amazing. It’s a great way to feel less lonely and to boost our mood. Even for introverts! The problem is that our minds tell us it’s not going to be that fun, so we don’t do it as often as we could,” Dr Santos tells NBC News.
“…a lot of the behaviours and mindsets that improve well-being come from being other oriented — from focusing on social connection and doing good things for others. So, we do need other people to be truly happy. In fact, loneliness is one of the worst things for both our happiness and our physical health.”
In fact, Dr Santos says reaching out and connecting with others is one of simplest ways to improve day-to-day happiness. “Call up a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Or just chat with the barista at a coffee shop. Research shows that simple act will improve your mood more than you think.”
Dr Ellen Hendriksen, author of How To Be Yourself, agrees, explaining to well+good that social connection is important for all humans. “We’re social creatures, and loneliness is a symptom of something being wrong. When you’re hungry, that’s your body telling you that you need to eat. When you’re tired, your body is telling you that you need to sleep. And when you’re lonely, that’s actually your body telling you that you need to connect.”
So with companies increasingly choosing to optimise and automate, how do we get that social interaction that we crave? For starters, Dr Hendriksen suggests finding like-minded people to connect with over something you care about, such as a hobby or social cause; second, making an effort to strike up conversation with people while you’re running errands.
Why not give it a try? You never know, it might make their day, too.