Talking to Strangers can Make You Happier!

Popping back at you on the topic of happiness! I blame the New York Times Happiness Project. If you did not see it The Times welcomed 2023 with its Happiness Challenge series. They used the very study I referenced last summer in my What I Learned at Harvard Business School post. Happiness tip #3 REALLY SPOKE to me – ha ha if you will. 

Each and every morning I walk both of my dogs – separately.

On walk #1 with “socially awkward” Mr. Po we spend a lot of time hiding. We cross streets. We hide behind cars. We speak to no one.

On walk # 2 with super social Florence, it is a whole different experience. She is the mayor of the street and I as a result am treated to all sorts of fun chats with some regulars and perfect strangers all before 7:30am which I have always found energizing, fun, and gratifying without really knowing why.

This phenomena was made abundantly clear via what The NY Times had to say on Day 3 on the topic of happiness. Day 3’s tip? “Small Talk has Big Benefits.” And the exercise? Talk to Strangers! Whoa!! Okay. Will do.

 I have been talking to strangers for years. Mostly because I thought it was fun – do things you think are fun! But after reading Happiness Project tip #3, I have proof that talking to strangers is vital to your mental health, physical health and overall happiness!

For the mid morning walk with my trusty and friendly side kick Florence in tow, I left the apartment as a social monster unleashed! I was not just casually encountering people, but deliberately engaging with people because the New York Times told me too. So much fun. Like a holiday party fun. I spoke to not kidding – 15+ people along the way. Different proportions of conversations. All fun. All memorable. Let me share my three favorites…

A mom/daughter combo visiting from Germany. They had a guttural reaction to seeing Florence so we put the brakes on for a visit. They have a new puppy arriving in February (I saw the photo – so cute) to join their 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 3 chickens (saw photos of them too). They wanted to bring Florence home with them – I kind of wanted to be adopted too.

Tyler – A Central Park Conservancy employee in charge of my favorite parts of the park – the woodlands!!! Also owner of Charlie, the 5 year old Boston Terrier. I asked him many questions – why were there so many leaves on the trees still in December!? The drought! How do you think this odd warm weather will effect the eco system of the park? All fine but warned we are due for a snowy and cold February. The best. So much fun. Could still be mid-Ramble chatting away with Tyler.

And lastly!! A fireman at the firehouse where Florence gets her treats before heading home. She sat. She gave her paw. And while she worked through her treat he showed me photos of his new puppy. He adopted his yellow lab Bea in mid May to find out two weeks later she was pregnant. He was told she would give birth to 8 puppies. She did! Then one more small sack dropped out that was different from the rest. She gave birth to 8 black lab puppies and exactly one yellow lab. The fireman kept the yellow lab puppy. His name is Teddy.

Did I have much time to allocate to this social experiment yesterday? No, not really. Was I much more productive with a bit more jaunt in my step afterwards? YES!

Click here to read the Time’s stance on why random encounters with random humans can proffer up happiness. If podcasts are more your thing, click here to listen to a Hidden Brain episode on the same subject: The Power of Tiny Interactions. Or just get up from whatever it is you are doing and go outside and conjure up your very own stranger encounters. Let me know if you want to borrow Florence. :)

Connections being made. Stories being shared. Life being amplified – one exchange at a time. Try it! On walks! At the theater! In elevators! On subways! Imagine if for one day everyone in NYC embraced this activity. What a day that would be. 

This is Armando.We met him thanks to a random chat one day. Now we are regulars. Florence LOVES Armando or maybe Armando’s snacks – that he hands out with the same enthusiasm he doles out wisdom. Win win! 


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