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Small talk makes us happier

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Friendly interaction with strangers, such as a clerk at a grocery store checkout counter, has been proven to make people feel better about themselves.

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Friendly interaction with strangers, such as a clerk at a grocery store checkout counter, has been proven to make people feel better about themselves. Photo Store

‘Don’t talk to strangers’ has been the age-old wisdom of many parents for generations.  

Kids have no fear and always say hi to strangers. My kids say hello to whomever will listen and engage in conversation with them. They talk to people to learn their names, ask how old they are and ask how their days are going. They talk to strangers anywhere — standing in line to pay at the grocery store, going for a walk or out on the soccer field.

Adults can learn a thing or two by talking to strangers.

A recent study by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business proves the benefits of talking to strangers. Two groups of subway and public transit commuters were given a task — people in the first group were told to carry on with their usual commutes, wear headphones and to avoid engaging with the person next to them. Those in the second group were told they had to talk to the strangers sitting beside them. The results are surprising.

The researchers found that talking to strangers actually makes us happier. This is because people care what other people think about them. When we talk to strangers, we hope that they like us. So we try to impress them by sounding smart, funny and nice. We try to get strangers to laugh and we try to make them think that we are interesting. In the process of making that connection, we end up smiling and laughing ourselves and engaging in behaviours that make us happy. This in turn makes us feel like we are actually smiling and having a good time.  

Not all interactions will go well but we seem to forget those which don’t and only remember the ones that do.

As adults, we have the misconception that talking to strangers is boring and that we will be stuck with someone who won’t stop talking to us. We forget that talking to strangers is enjoyable and beneficial to our well-being. Not only does it make us happier,but there are other benefits. They may include flirting with a pretty girl to get a date, making a connection to get a discount at a store, or learning new information.

We really do underestimate the degree to which people make us happy and how interactions with people bring happiness into our lives.

Instead of picking up your smart phone or headphones try using your gift of gab and think of it as an opportunity.

Charlene Kroll is a community correspondent for North Kildonan.

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