We often avoid eye contacts and conversations with strangers. However, research shows making small talks with someone on the street can contribute to your happiness.
Taking the bus home after a hectic day at work, we often pray for an empty seat without the interference of a stranger. We often think it is better to remain in solitude, to enjoy the ride alone with eyes glued on to a book or a gadget. However, you might be doing it all wrong. Taking some time off to pass a smile or strike a conversation with a random stranger may in fact relieve you of the dullness after work. It may bring up your spirit and leave you a lot happier than you were.
According to psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and her colleague Gillian M. Sandstrom from the University of British Columbia, having short conversations with strangers can lift your mood. "We found that people who were randomly assigned to turn this economic transaction into a quick social interaction left Starbucks in a better mood. And they even felt a greater sense of belonging in their community," said Dunn to NPR (National Public Radio). She asked the participants of the study to go to Starbucks to grab a drink, while some went in and came out others got into small chit chats with strangers. She concluded that people who engaged in small talks were in a better mood than others.
The researchers also found that having trivial encounters with people like the cashier at the coffee shop or the guy walking his dog at the park can make an individual feel much happier that day.
Another psychologist Kipling Williams found that eye contact with strangers gave people a sense of belonging and inclusion in society. "Just that brief acknowledgment, that brief glance — with or without a smile — made them at least temporarily feel more socially connected," said Williams. It was found that people who were ignored by others left disconnected from society.
While it is easy for us to start these conversations or even maintain some eye contact, we hold ourselves back. According to Nicholas Epley, social anxiety is a factor that is preventing people from interacting with each other. His experiments revealed that commuters who sparked a conversation with fellow passengers had a more pleasant ride than people who believed in holding themselves back in solitude. He also added that most people fear what others might about what others think and therefore keeps away from starting a conversation with a stranger.
However, the first step to starting a new conversation is avoiding the use of mobile phones. In a study titled Smartphones reduce smiles between strangers, published on February 2019 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, it was proven that using phones can stop us from exchanging smiles at public spaces. It also makes people think that you are not interested in interacting with them. Therefore avoiding the use of cellphones in public spaces can increase the possibility of having a good chat or eye contact with a stranger.
Connecting with people around you through small talk and eye contact is crucial for a person well being. Epley says that a happy life is made up of many positive events and experiences. "Happiness seems a little bit like a leaky tire on a car," Epley explains. "We just sort of have to keep pumping it up a bit to maintain it."
However, it does not mean that you strike a conversation every time you bump into someone to the point of being creepy. It just means you don't have to stop yourself if you have the urge to say "hello" or even give a smile.