To Be Happier, Talk to A Stranger... Just Not Me

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This morning when I awoke from my uninterrupted slumber to begin my morning routine and launch into my favorite daily ritual (blogging), I had no idea the first thing I’d read would reveal the ever-elusive path to happiness. What a treat!


A recent study published in ELSEVIER’s Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 91 found that strangers are less likely to smile at one another in public spaces because they’re glued to their smartphones. These devices are changing the way humans interact with one another and, as NPR points out, “we might just be short-changing our own happiness by ignoring opportunities to connect with the people around us.” That’s well and fine, and you should absolutely put down Twitter and talk to strangers if it makes you feel good, just please, first make sure that stranger isn’t me.

There have been other reports like this in the past, and they all sort of lead to the same conclusion: tiny, trivial interactions with strangers—cashiers at the grocery store, people in elevators, fellow pedestrians on the sidewalk, other places humans might be that I only go because I must—increase feelings of happiness. People apparently love brief acknowledgement, according to Purdue University psychologist Kipling Williams, which in turn makes them feel “more socially connected.” He says “It takes very little to acknowledge somebody’s existence.”

Sounds great. Make eye contact, smile at nerds, whatever. Just not me.

I recently made the mistake of communing with a few strangers on my commute, speaking to people on the subway platform, in the lobby of Jezebel’s office building, and even in the elevator (I was born in Texas and this is my burden.) What is not my burden, however, is the fallout. Now whenever I see these select individuals, they expect followup conversation, and god forbid, a smile?! It’s the morning, dude-whose-name-I’ve-never-known-because-you’re-a-literal-stranger, and I’m trying to sulk. I’ll give you a “Hey, how’s it goin’?” but that’s it, pal.

Perhaps the secret to eternal bliss isn’t talking to strangers, but talking to strangers with whom there is no possibility of ever seeing again and where the conversation doesn’t move past, “Good morning,” “Nice shoes,” or “Bad weather.” There it is. I’ve found happiness.


honkhonkhonk - check if it's really me!

Imo these studies* fail to control for people living in giant fucking cities. Like, sure yeah, smile and nod in smaller situations where you’re a less surrounded by abject strangers and when the smiles and nods aren’t made infinite by the hordes. Smiling and nodding in a massive city feels so RISKY though. Phones aren’t like... I mean, before phones, we used newspapers and books to studiously ignore each other. While the tech is new, the concept is not.

*I promise to now go read the abstract of this one to make sure I’m not talking shite. Fulltext if it’s not behind a paywall.