60-Second Mind

Talking to Strangers Makes You Happy

People who had to strike up conversations on a subway later reported feeling happier than those who didn’t. Christie Nicholson reports.

Consider the times you’ve hopped on a subway, boarded a plane or entered a waiting room. Chances are, you probably avoided engaging with any fellow commuters or patients. But contrary to what we might think, we’d be happier if we did strike up a conversation with a total stranger.

In a study, commuters in Chicago were asked to either talk with a stranger on a train, or sit quietly alone, or just do whatever they’d normally do on their commute. Then, they responded to a survey about how they felt. 

Turns out those who engaged with strangers had the most pleasurable experience and those who remained solitary had the least enjoyable experience. These answers were compared with another group that did not participate but instead had to predict how they might feel in each situation. This group thought talking with strangers would be the least enjoyable, by far. The study is the journal of Experimental Psychology. [Nicholas Epley & Juliana Schroeder: Mistakenly Seeking Solitude]

So despite being social animals and enjoying social engagement, we avoid chatting with strangers. Why? Well, according to a follow up study it’s because we think, wrongly, that strangers don’t want to talk with us. The one way to get over this is to practice reaching out – who knows, commuting could become more enjoyable.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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