Tag Archives: conversation

Talking to Strangers – Can – Make you Happy.

There are few things I find more frightening than being unlikable. That may sound insecure, yes, but I prefer not to skirt around the truth. Being ‘liked,
‘ whatever that might mean, reaps a bounty of benefits from good eye contact to free cigarettes to job promotions.

When it comes to meeting strangers, likability values a good first impression, so whether I’m at a club or on the bus, I do everything in my power to facilitate positive social experiences. This tends to happen passively when I’m relaxed, but when I’m stressed, I tend to waste time concerned about whether  or not I’ve agitated people.

Recently, I have been more stressed in public, so my interactions with strangers has been limited to stressing out about them in my imagination. However, over the last week, after reading a James Hamblin piece titled “How to Talk to Strangers,” I’ve been determined to have conversations with humans who I’ve never met. As of now (Sunday afternoon), I’ve had two.  

The first didn’t go well. It was with a new classmate, whose name I had forgotten during our round table introductions a half hour earlier. To summarize, we traded names, “how are you’s?”, and he walked away. I was bitter about his lack of tact, and re-entered our classroom, introverted and annoyed. This felt like a lesson on why one should not talk to strangers. I had tried and failed.

The second went perfectly. It was exemplary of my bright, optimistic social ability. While looking for a place to sit in a crowded bar, I greeted a stranger, we traded “how are you’s,” I gave an honest, witty answer, we introduced ourselves, and the rest of the conversation was silk. We were at a drag show, so at least 95% of the people at the venue shared a common cultural interest and, such similarities make for easy bonding. I formed a sense of accomplishment after that, but for no simple reason I think.

In his article, Hamblin asserts that “public-health research has shown improved moods among commuters who chat on the subway, and happiness and creativity among people who talk to strangers.” However, I believe it is an oversimplification to say that stranger chatting causes happiness. I have spent many happy hours engrossed in a book on transit, and being interrupted by a chatty commuter would probably have spoiled that mood. Chatting isn’t for everyone, or for every moment, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t strike up conversation with strangers. Occasionally, stranger chatting can be satisfying, sure, and I have a theory as to why.

As people grow and develop, I believe they reinforce certain behaviours and habits, physically and emotionally, that can be described as ‘needs’ when one grows older. I like to think that I have a need for intimacy, and there are many ways to satisfy that. Feeling intimately connected with a book is one way, and meeting a friendly new human is another. It would be selfish to assume that everyone has the same needs as I do, though, so I heed you, dear reader, to be careful with Hamblin’s article. Do not assume that socialization creates happiness, but be open to it having that influence.