Want to Be Happier? Connect with Strangers!

Say-Hello1If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may know that on many mornings I exercise in St. Mary’s Park.

This park is situated in a poor neighborhood in the South Bronx. It’s about 3/4 of a mile from where I live.

Walking to the park and exercising there makes me happy. Not just because the exercise feels good, but because I connect with people on my way to the park and while I’m exercising there.

Connecting… with Strangers?

Greeting strangers is a regular part of my morning walk. I look people in the eye as I pass them. I simply smile and nod and say, “Good morning.”

And almost without fail, people say hello back. They say “Good morning” or “Buenos dias.” Or sometimes “Buenos dias, Mami.”

I greet men and women and children of all sizes and shapes and hues. I particularly enjoy saying hello to a cluster of teenage boys swaggering down the block and seeing the look of surprise on their faces, just before they return my friendly greeting.

I’ve always known that these little bits of contact make me feel good. And a recent opinion piece in the New York Times put my experience in a broader context.

People Feel Happier When They Connect With Strangers

Recent studies by behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder show that I’m not alone in feeling better when I make fleeting contact with strangers.

Not only do people feel happier when they make even small contact with strangers, but the people they make contact with feel better too.

And even more remarkable, “…the happiness benefits of connecting with others turns out to be contagious.”

Far-Reaching Positive Effects

Not only do people feel good about the interaction, but the positive effect spills over into how they feel about whatever else they were doing. “Far from annoying people, by violating their personal bubbles, reaching out to strangers may improve their day.”

I think saying hello to strangers is a little act of generosity — “an invisible salve on our wound of loneliness, one that benefits both sides, over and over again.”*

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Acknowledge Some Strangers Today

It doesn’t take much to connect with strangers. Just look them the eye and nod or say hello as you walk by. You don’t need to stop to chat — a simple smile and nod will do the trick.

Then notice how they respond. And notice how it makes you feel. If you feel a little spark of happiness, they probably do too.

Please share you’re experiences with greeting strangers in the comments below.

*With thanks to Seth Godin’s blog post on generosity.