Talking to Strangers Will Make You Happy

IMG: via Shutterstock

IMG: via Shutterstock

Public speaking is a widely held fear among many adults, and it’s a feat that goes beyond addressing large groups of people on a stage. Public speaking relates to meetings, conference calls, and classes – interactions that can still be stressful despite likely being shared with people you already know. Job interviews, sales, and lectures are examples of interactions that tend to involve strangers and often make people uncomfortable because of their very awkward, personal nature.

According to a study by the University of Chicago and researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, in these situations, we are all psyching ourselves out. People’s assumptions of negative interactions and the consequences that follow are unfounded, yet powerful. Believe it or not, Epley and Schroeder said that people actually have the opposite experience, in that interacting with strangers leaves people feeling happy and fulfilled.

A write-up in the Science of Us blog from New York Magazine describes the experience:

“Some (commuters) were instructed to have a conversation with whoever sat next to them, some were told to keep to themselves and enjoy their solitude, and some were told to do whatever they normally do. Afterwards, they mailed in surveys describing their experience — both how much they enjoyed the ride and how productive they felt during it. Of the three groups, those in the conversation condition reported the most positive train ride, and those in the solitude condition reported the most negative. Among those who talked, the longer the conversation, the better the ride.”

These findings are not surprising, nor is there any shock in the fact that most people do not willingly create small talk with strangers. Psychologists have attributed this behavior to ignorance of social decorum, where people want to talk but believe no one else does.

While this study was conducted among train commuters in New York City, the effects are felt worldwide. Understanding the positive impacts of public speaking and casually conversing helps negate its supposed awkwardness and strengthens the comfort level of all participants, making every day interactions, both professional and personal ones, more fluid and organic. After all, most people get jobs from networking and relationships, not from blindly responding to online job postings.

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