Talking to Strangers Can Make You Happier

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Determined not to make eye contact with anyone on the subway? You’re not alone, but our commutes would be happier if we socialized more, according to a new study.

“Connecting with strangers on a train may not bring the same long-term benefits as connecting with friends,” University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Nicholas Epley said in a press release. “But commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude.”

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Over the course of nine experiments, the researchers learned that people predict that social isolation will result in a more enjoyable commute or waiting room experience. But the participants ended up reporting positive feedback both being spoken to and initiating conversation with a stranger.

The researchers also discovered that fear drives much of our solitary behavior: Participants said that even though they wanted to chat with someone, they assumed the other person wouldn’t want to reciprocate.

But in fact, “the pleasure of connection seems contagious: In a laboratory waiting room, participants who were talked to had equally positive experiences as those instructed to talk,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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Still uncertain? Think of Jerry Seinfeld befriending the nudist on the subway on the infamous Seinfeld episode. Or, take the researchers’ advice: The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

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