💬 Happy Habit #9: Chat with Someone in Line

• 4 min read

The next time you're waiting in line, strike up a conversation with someone next to you.

Research Overview

People today report feeling lonely at double the rate they did in the 1980s [1]. Loneliness is said to be as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day [2].

One easy way to combat loneliness is to put away our phones when in public places and to strike up casual conversation [3]. Most people mistakenly think that having small talk with strangers will be unpleasant and won't make them happy, but the research shows that the opposite is true: Not only do most people report a positive experience but the effects are lasting.

Core Concept

Our lives are busier than ever, or at least it seems like they are. We carry devices in our pockets that we pick up thousands of times a day. The notifications from our screens are incredibly distracting and allow us to soak up every minute with stimulus and new information.

While this technology is sold as a way to connect with other people, it often has the opposite effect. If you walk into a restaurant you'll often see people sharing a meal while looking at their phones.

Meanwhile, depression and anxiety is at an all-time high and most people report feeling lonely and isolated. The pandemic has only made this worse.

We were wired for human connection.

And yet the lives most of us have chosen to live often deprive us of the very thing we need most.

Fortunately, there's a really easy way to subvert this pattern of time scarcity and digital distraction: Put your phone away and strike up a friendly conversation.

It doesn't have to be deep and it doesn't have to last long. Just the small human interaction of saying hello, talking about the weather and asking someone how their day is going emits a whole host of positive chemicals in our brain.

If talking to a stranger sounds like torture—you're not alone! Most people mistakenly believe the same. But the research is clear: Making time to chat with strangers makes you happy.

Here are some tips on how to make this a habit.

Behavior tips

Even if you don't want to do this one, I recommend giving it a go—purely because of what the research says about the topic.

  1. Decide to talk to a stranger once a day
  2. Put your phone and headphones in your bag (out of reach) even for 15 mins
  3. Feel the itch of your dopamine receptors urging you to pick up the phone (don't do it)
  4. Walk into a restaurant or a cafe (or get on public transit)
  5. Keep your eyes open for someone you might like to speak with, or someone who might appreciate a bit of connection to brighten their day
  6. Prepare an opening phrase that feels comfortable for you to say like, "Hey, how's it going?" or "How's your day going so far?" Whatever works for you.
  7. Just do it. Talk to someone and see what happens.

Notice how you feel afterwards. Encourage yourself for continuing to invest in your own happiness and well-being. You were made to connect with other humans and you just so happen to be alive at a time where people tend to ignore each other (to everyone's detriment).

The world around you is crazy, not you.

See if you can make it a habit to put your phone away whenever you're in public. Have fun striking up conversations with people. See what happens.

My personal story

Growing up, my father always said that to my mother, the word 'stranger' meant 'a best friend she hadn't met yet.' And it was true.

Shopping at the local grocery store was like an arcade of human interaction. My mom was always striking up conversations with people and trying to make them laugh.

Every now and then she'd come across a "crusty" who would give her a blank stare and not respond, but a vast majority of the time people loved it. And then they became her friends.

She knew the pharmacist and the gas station tellers on a first-name basis. She bought coffees for the receptionists at the dentists and the doctor's office.

She was friends with pretty much everyone.

How cool is that?

Growing up I didn't really appreciate this but instead chose to shirk and hide myself in the shame and awkwardness of my super outgoing mother who didn't seem to give a damn about the social convention of ignoring people in the world around you.

But then I moved to New Orleans for University and became just like my mom. I was free from the burden of all the social baggage I'd gathered growing up in Littleton, CO. I was free to be myself.

Why not strike up a conversation and make friends with everyone you meet?

There's a kind of power that comes with the confidence to look someone in the eyes and meet there where they are. People sometimes just burst out of the waters of their repressed selves and a beautiful moment is shared.

Life is short

Give it a go. We're happier with people in our lives. The research is crystal clear. Don't suffer in isolation. It affects your physical and mental health.

Devices are your number one distraction. Their notifications and your itching dopamine receptors are their prompts. Remove the prompts and open yourself to the world around you.

You might just find yourself chatting up someone in line and meeting a new friend, business partner, customer—or lover. You never know.

Let me know how it goes

A handful of subscribers have reached out with touching stories sharing their experiments with happy habits. If you try this one and want to let me know how it goes, I'd be honored!

I'm always trying to learn and improve so I can help make it easier for people to have fun discovering new ways to build lasting happiness.

Until next week.

John

Citations

  1. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D. A., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method. Science, 306(5702), 1776-1780.
  2. 2018 Cigna Loneliness Index
  3. Epley, N., & Schroeder, J. (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980.
← 🗣 Happy Habit #10: Speak to Yourself Like a Friend
🍂 Happy Habit #8: Forest Bathing (Shirin Yoku) →

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