Talking to strangers can be good for you

When we meet new people, we feel more like we belong
Chatting with strangers has become less common. Even before the pandemic, it was on the decline. We have largely given up the friendly chat with the grocery check-out clerk. Even a “Hello” or “Nice day!” when crossing paths with a fellow pedestrian has fallen by the wayside. Instead, we pass without speaking and without eye contact. Strangers of all kinds seem scary, maybe even dangerous.But lack of interaction may be socially unhealthy for us, according to psychologist Gillian Sandstrom. Working with psychologist Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia, Sandstrom devised a study that randomly grouped participants to compare coffee shop transactions with and without friendly social engagement.One group of participants avoided conversation with the barista during their transaction. The other group of study participants smiled, made eye contact and some small talk — making a point to connect.

The participants who did more chatting said their mood was brighter, and noted higher levels of belonging and overall happiness after the interaction. This is the first study to highlight the potential for those positive results due to friendly social moments with strangers, acquaintances or distant friends (aka, “weak ties”).

Talking with someone we don’t know sounds easy for some and may feel extremely awkward to others. Many of us are afraid of embarrassing ourselves. We may have a hard time knowing what to say. We may worry that the other person isn’t interested. Or that they won’t enjoy talking with us. We might think that the other person doesn’t have much to offer. Or that the conversation may be unpleasant.

In a recent literature review, evidence supports adding Vitamin S – for “stranger” – back into our social diet. Researchers and study authors Paul A. M. Van Lange