Most people spend most of the day surrounded by strangers. On their way to work, in the park or, for example, in a cafe. Yet we rarely have a chat with them. We think this makes people feel uncomfortable and only bothers them. However, various studies show the opposite: having a chat with a stranger has many advantages.
The inner life of strangers
One explanation for the positive effects of talking to strangers is that it makes us feel more connected to them. We realize that they have a rich inner life of thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences, just like we do.
People are social beings by nature and need this feeling of connection. We attach great value to social contact with others and become both happier and healthier as a result. When we feel lonely and isolated, we become stressed. This in turn causes problems, such as obesity and a smoking addiction.
Positive social relationships are therefore very important for human happiness. It is even more important than our career success.
Expectations create the situation
You might expect that extroverted people, in particular, benefit from making connections with others. But nothing could be further from the truth. Research shows that both extroverts and introverts are happier when asked to behave in an extrovert way.
Although personality may not have much influence on the experience of talking to strangers, it can influence their expectations. If you don’t expect talking to strangers to be appreciated, you’re less likely to have a conversation with someone. As a result, you will never know that your expectations may not be right at all.
A thoughtful gesture
The misunderstandings about social interaction extend beyond talking to strangers. We underestimate the positive impact of making contact with others in general.
A simple thank-you note, doing something nice for someone else, or giving a compliment are often highly appreciated. However, we believe that the recipients become less happy than they actually are.
This underestimation can keep us from the social contact we all need for our health.
So the next time you want to help someone or just want to have a conversation, do it! Don’t be afraid that people won’t appreciate this, because research shows that things are likely to go a lot better than you initially expected.