Other People Matter: Why You Should Talk To Strangers

In March, those of us in the New York Area began to receive our stay-at-home orders amidst the influx of coronavirus cases. Suddenly, we were sheltering in doors, physically distancing from others, and wearing masks that seemingly inhibited even a kind smile on the street. To protect ourselves, we were told, it was best to isolate. And isolate we did. But an interesting thing happened as we physically isolated from our family and friends. Text messages, video chats, and virtual connections surged. In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, we came together (albeit, virtually), seeking solace in the form of social connection. Game nights, birthday parties, and even weddings brought us together through our computers, with all of us sharing joy, humor and revelry - a savory gift amidst the ambiguity of our surroundings.

One of our most basic needs as humans -- genuine connection with others. The science emphasizes the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to these relationships. And often when we think "quality", our minds go to our nearest and dearest. The friends that have been with us through thick and thin, the ones that hold our deepest secrets, those that lift us when we've fallen down. Martin Seligman, the "father" of positive psychology, teaches that if we have someone to call in the middle of the night, we're likely to live longer than those who don't. But while we should value relationships, we should also value connection. Rom-coms call these meet-cutes, science calls them high-quality connections. While it takes nearly 200+ hours to cultivate a strong friendship, high-quality connections can be fostered in only a few seconds, and can make us happier, more resilient, productive, and even more confident.

Think about the last time a quick exchange with a stranger elevated your day. Perhaps it was the warm banter with your barista or a shared exaggerated eye roll with your neighbor in one of those never ending queues. In mere moments, our basic need to have genuine intimacy and connection with another human is fulfilled. Think about the magic that we can create in our world (and our lives!) if we were to open ourselves to these organic connections. Wouldn't the world feel friendlier, more approachable, less cold? And who doesn't want to feel happier, more energetic, and more connected with the world around them? In a world that craves 'get rich quick' schemes, this is your 'get happy quick' solution - start by saying good morning to those you pass by on your morning walk. Or complimenting your barista. Or in the time of covid, generously making way for someone to pass on the sidewalk. These little micro-actions can give way to high-quality connections - and I can promise that you and those around you - will be left happier because of it.

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