Thanks to our phones, people are starved for human interaction and just a simple human interaction with a stranger can lift your spirits.
People feel lonely and disconnected quite a bit these days, what with our social medias and our Candy Crushes and our Swipe Right apps. But as I sit on my porch and tell kids to get off my lawn, I remind myself that the deleterious effects of phones are already well documented. When we hide in our phones, we deprive ourselves of those tiny moments of human interaction that can cheer people up immesurably.
Several years ago, University of British Columbia psychologist Elizabeth Dunn did a study where she asked participants to enter a busy coffee shop and grab a beverage. Half of the participants simply ordered their drink and left, while the other half chatted with people during the transaction. "We found that people who were randomly assigned to turn this economic transaction into a quick social interaction left Starbucks in a better mood," Dunn says. "And they even felt a greater sense of belonging in their community."
Sounds like they just found a bunch of introverts and extroverts and then found out that extroverts liked socializing, right? But here's the thing: people feel better and more connected when they have small interactions with strangers that they interact with regularly. If you say hi to your neighborhood barista, have a quick chat with your bus driver, greet your crossing guard with a smile, and ask your librarian how their kids are, you're going to feel more connected to your community and you're going to be just a little bit happier.
But wait, fellow introverts. I know that you're probably thinking that you don't want to smile at EVERY rando on the J train. But have you asked yourself why? Nicholas Epley, a University of Chicago behavioral scientist, believes that a lot of our hesitation is due to social anxiety. But according to his studies people actually find that their interactions are more pleasant than they were worried about, even if they thought they would be happier reading a book.
Those fleeting moments of happiness are so important to people, but we're very prone to hiding in our cell phones and avoiding each other. But we may need more practice at it. "Happiness seems a little bit like a leaky tire on a car," Epley explains. "We just sort of have to keep pumping it up a bit to maintain it."