When was the last time you talked to a stranger?
That’s not all that easy when you live in small towns like ours. Even the people you don’t know by name aren’t really strangers.
A UBC professor found that talking to strangers “can boost your happiness level and instill a greater sense of belonging”, and Vancouver has an annual campaign called Say Hi To A Stranger!
I can sense a lot of cringing out there as people read that. We spend the first dozen years of our awareness being told NOT to talk to strangers. And then there are the moderately shy folks who have a hard time being in the presence of strangers, and the introverts who just don’t want to be bothered.
After studying hundreds of couples and how they interacted with strangers, the professor concluded that talking to strangers can reverse a bad mood – basically because you put on a happy face to communicate with someone you don’t know. And that’s all it usually takes to break a bad mood.
Or, to put it in other words, someone told me once a long time ago that their first job as a teenager was to deal in a helpful manner with the public. They were told to smile and be polite. So that’s what she did, day after day, even though she didn’t feel like it. She did this for months before she realized that she didn’t need to remind herself to smile anymore, and she enjoyed helping strangers with their problems.
Talking to a stranger is like a puzzle: you dump all of the pieces out of the box and prod and poke them around, trying to get a picture in your head. Talking to someone you don’t know means you actually have to communicate. You have to carefully speak and listen because you don’t know how they’ll react to what you say. They might just reach into their vest pocket and pull out a million dollars!
At the very least, random interaction keeps the thoughts and ideas flowing. It makes our brains work. And, apparently, it makes us happy.
So find a stranger. You may have to go to Kamloops for this, but strike up a conversation and lift your mood.
Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal