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Published 2016-11-29
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Can talking to strangers make you a happier person?

Starting a conversation with complete strangers might seem a little bit like a social taboo, but it can bring a surprising range of favourable benefits. More and more people are living in metropolitan settings than ever before. 54% of the world population and 33% of the Indian population is living in the cities, suburbs and towns. That number is expected to rapidly rise following increasing rate of urbanisation .

The global population shift from the rural to the urban shapes new human relationships as various individuals are brought together. This phenomenon also puts us in a situation where we are always in contact with new faces everywhere, also known as strangers.

We live among strangers

There are strangers who live in our apartments and neighbourhoods, strangers who we share our commute with and there are stranger who we work with in our offices. Most of us have been schooled from an early age to be careful with strangers and mostly avoid talking to them.

It has become like a norm for us to divert our eyes away from the strangers when we are passing through in the hallways, we are mostly on our phones or books (very rare these days) when we are commuting and in most social setting we try not to communicate with people we don’t know or recognise.

These are the strangers who may be the key to unsealing your true self, experiencing better moods and having more pleasant experiences overall. All this is of course found by researches across different contexts. The small social cost of starting a conversation with a stranger seem to gather a great deal of benefits that you may have never known.

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Chatting with fellow travellers can make you happy

Researchers conducted a series of studies were conducted to see the impact of making small talk with strangers on people’s travel experiences. Participants were asked to communicate with strangers on a public transport. Although talking to strangers would be less pleasant, the participants said that it was more pleasant than sitting alone. The participants said that they found their commute more fruitful and fulfilling as the days when they travelled alone.

Communicating with strangers makes you feel like you are a selfless person

Chatting with strangers gives people the same boost as being helpful does. People seem to have reported that they received the same emotional benefits as when they do good deeds as to when they talk to strangers.

What if they are not in the mood to chat with you?

It seems that your hesitation of not knowing if the stranger wants to talk to you plays a crucial part. Most of us think that our fellow strangers wouldn’t be interested in striking up a conversation. This fear of being rejected is what keeps us to ourselves rather that talk to the stranger. You only live once, so try starting a conversation with a stranger, who knows? They might be the person of your dreams. (Of course, be a little bit careful too, they are strangers after all)

Are you scared because you think you are an introvert?

You don’t have to be extroverted to tap into this fountain of happiness. According to researchers, it isn't the initiator of the conversation who experienced more positive emotions alone, the recipient also experienced good mood levels and reported more positive experiences than travelling or waiting at a place silently alone.

Friendly neighbours can improve your health

You must be wondering how? Well, researchers found that people who develop friendly neighbourhood connections seem to have better mental and social health. That doesn’t mean they can cure cancer or something like that. Some of the benefits of having friendly neighbours would be those regular interactions with the neighbours means that more people have the opportunity to observe us on a daily basis as give us warning if they see signs of bad health or notice any significant changes you have gone through and our mood boost we experience when we talk to them.

Taking an Ola or an Uber? Talk to the driver to speed up the ride.

A social experimental data showed that people who talked to the drivers not only enjoyed the ride more, but also felt that time passed a lot faster. What is more interesting is that people who were already in the habit of doing this have anticipated this positive experience which means that their existing habits were likely formed as they already knew the benefits of small talk at some level.

Strangers in a chat room?

Study shows that safe and positive online chatroom interactions can help teens relieve social anxiety and enhance their social skills. Teenagers will learn how to absorb new ideas and perspectives, and gain support and advice that helps them build their social repertoire. Of course, all this is only possible if the teens find the right tools to identify risks and safeguard themselves as the internet is a very dangerous place.

Why and how does small-talk actually work?

Small talks’ feel good as they affirm us, our ideas and our worth. When we strike a conversation with a stranger we instinctively take effort to be as polite as possible. So does the other person. This means both the conversing parties experience these conversations as positive events and go away feeling validated and attended to. Such pleasant interactions help us boost our sense of being accepted.

Strangers can be ‘strange’

Saying "strange", we of course mean in a good way. We mean strangers can be people who think very differently from us. Some frame this in a negative way while for some, it gives them the opportunity to understand new perspectives and to learn about different experiences and ideas. This in turn helps us become more understanding.

Important Notice

None of this indicates that we should bare all when talking to strangers. If someone asks uncomfortable questions, it’s OK to refuse answers, or to end the conversation. The idea is to have light conversation that is enriching (but not disturbing) for both parties.

Interacting with strangers is no substitute for interacting with romantic partners and close friends obviously. But, they wouldn’t be with you 24/7. Many studies have shown that interactions with friends and partners help in confidence building, coping with stress and sustaining our good mood which is far more than with strangers.

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