Why you should consider spending more time talking to strangers

Making casual connections with people we encounter in the course of daily life can boost our happiness and even make us smarter.

Why you should consider spending more time talking to strangers
In the bustling streets of London and busy cities, we often find ourselves head down, headphones in, and eyes fixed on our screens. We’re on a mission to get from A to B and don’t want anything (or anyone) to get in your way. Even awkward eye contact can fill some of us with horror.
Yet talking to strangers on a walk in the countryside, or on a long train journey feels a little easier. You have a shared experience, routine or destination and it feels more natural to smile and start conversation as our paths cross. Whether it’s a smile, a good morning or someone complimenting your outfit - it feels good to have even the lightest encounter. So why don’t we do it more?
Casual connections with strangers can boost our happiness and sense of belonging
Casual connections with strangers can boost our happiness and sense of belonging

Why don’t we talk to strangers?

As kids, we were told not to talk to strangers through increasing anxieties around crime, but the studies show overriding blocker of talking to people we don’t know is the fear of the unpredictability of the conversation.
Unpredictable conversations The unpredictability of a conversation with someone we don’t know can make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Some people may feel talking to strangers may be stilted and unpleasant. Or we simply don’t know how to start a conversation with a new person.
Hiding behind smartphones Certainly, smartphones have made it easier than ever to avoid interacting with the people in our immediate environment - we’re less likely to smile at strangers when we’re using our phones.
Negative Expectation vs Positive Reality Studies have shown that the thought of engaging with a stranger is much worse that the reality: the expectation of the encounter negative, but the actual experience is positive. As well as with light small talk, one study have found being open and deep with someone they don’t know can be surprisingly comfortable. The participants were surprised by how enjoyable – and unawkward – it is.

Yet encounters with strangers makes us happier

There is power in casual connections. Having encounters with strangers has been shown to boost a sense of belonging and improve mood and happiness. One study in London and Chicgaco found that people who were instructed to talk to fellow passengers on public transport felt more positive about their commute than those who didn’t. Even having a brief chat with a barista in a coffee shop will make you feel happier.
Yes, initiating conversation with a stranger can be daunting. But it's worth it. Humans are social creatures and real-life encounters can leave us feeling happier than offline ones. We can attach more value and empathy to conversations outside social media.
Plus many people report feeling a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence after breaking the ice. And those who were initially uncomfortable with the idea end up finding these interactions surprisingly enjoyable and enriching.
Talking to strangers can make us smarter. Research shows that people consistently underestimate the learning potential gained from conversations with strangers

And smarter

We love watching videos of people stopping people in the street and asking them questions - we’re curious and inquisitive. We learn about people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints. When you speak to strangers, you’re not only boosting your confidence, you are also boosting your brain power. By interacting with people outside your normal circles, you can gain knowledge and broaden your perspective.
We share knowledge and experiences Conversations can improve not only knowledge transfer but also knowledge creation. Through spontaneous conversations with people outside our normal bubble, it can spark creative thinking and different perspectives.
Boosts creative thinking and cognitive function Talking to strangers can stimulate our brain in ways that familiar interactions don't, providing a cognitive boost. A study from the University of British Columbia found that even brief encounters with strangers can increase our mental performance and sharpen our thinking.
One study randomly paired strangers for a 10-minute conversation and compared how much each participant expected to learn before the conversation with how much they reported learning after the conversation. Though the content varied, participants consistently learned more than they expected from these conversations.
Listen to “Where are you going?” - a unique podcast where Catherine Carr has funny, surprising, heartbreaking and romantic conversations with strangers.

7 surprising benefits of talking to strangers

Engaging with strangers is not just a personal benefit; it's a societal one. It's an effective antidote to prejudice and echo chambers. When we talk to people who see the world differently, we broaden our perspectives.
  1. Enhances Mood Engaging in conversations with strangers can significantly boost one's mood and create a sense of happiness.
  1. Increases Sense of Belonging These interactions contribute to a stronger sense of community and social cohesion.
  1. Improves Cognitive Function Talking to strangers stimulates the brain differently than familiar interactions, enhancing mental performance and thinking skills.
  1. Boosts Confidence Initiating conversations with strangers can increase self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment
  1. Could make someone else’s day Regular interactions with strangers can combat feelings of isolation and chronic loneliness
  1. Facilitates Unexpected Connections Conversing with strangers can lead to unexpected friendships, opportunities, and meaningful exchanges.
  1. Encourages Deep Conversations Studies suggest that deeper conversations with strangers are surprisingly enjoyable and less awkward than anticipated.
So, how can you reap the benefits of talking to strangers in your everyday life? It could be as simple as a greeting in an elevator, a comment about the weather while waiting in line, or asking for a book recommendation on the train. These small interactions can lead to insightful conversations and, perhaps, even lasting friendships. Plus, it might just make someone’s day.

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