Many people spend several hours of their day on a train making the long commute into work and back home in the evening. Many of us have also started to use this time to catch up on Netflix, block out the world with music drumming through them, or reading. The unspoken rules everyone follows is avoid eye contact, move further inside the train carriage and circumvent any possible chit-chat with strangers. I am certain that some people think being friendly with strangers on a London tube or New York subway is a punishable offence.
If we ignored these social conventions though, we would be happier than we expect. An experiment found that those who struck up a conversation with a fellow commuter and the commuter who was on the receiving end of the conversation both had a pleasant experience. We often underestimate both how much a new person likes us after the initial conversation and the positive impact of connecting with others for both our own and others’ wellbeing.
Although these interactions isolated won’t be life changing, in the long term, it can make unpleasant moments happier, not just in extroverts but as much in introverts, although introverts may underestimate the positive effects of these interactions. It allows us to connect with people from different backgrounds we wouldn’t ordinarily encounter and feel more bonded, elevating everyone’s spirits.
We tend to think the person on the receiving end will either be indifferent of this social effort or worry about their reaction, maybe because it is not as common now. However, much of the evidence shows a simple conversation or simple act of kindness to a stranger accompanied with a conversation, allows both people to come away feeling more content and connected.
Right now, more than ever, people feel more disconnected with their communities and mental health all around has declined. Especially with the pandemic, some of are resigned to our four walls and being able to socialise with friends less. We don’t need to even go so far to talk to someone new as many of us don’t even make friends with our neighbours! Even by offering some freshly baked cookies (or a shop bought cake – we’re not all Mary Berry!), we can bond with our neighbours and others in our community, which will increase harmony and wellbeing.
Next time, instead of isolating ourselves when surrounded with people, think about taking out those headphones, or knocking on that door and starting with a simple but effective ‘hello’. A smile to accompany also helps 🙂