Most people spend the bulk of their day surrounded by strangers: fellow shoppers, commuters, diners, and those waiting for the doctor. Even though we are surrounded by other people, we typically stay silent. But breaking the ice could help your health in a number of ways.
Research suggests that talking to strangers can improve mood, boost well-being, reduce stress levels and help heart health. Unfortunately most people are averse to talking to people they don’t know.
But that may be because of a misconception. Surveys suggest that most people think that others don’t want to be spoken to by a stranger. Research, however, suggests the opposite: the majority of people are willing to engage in a conversation when a stranger strikes one up.
Conversing with strangers does a few things that pay health dividends. For starters, it allows people to feel connected to the community around them. It can also make relatively unpleasant situations—like sitting on the bus or waiting for your turn at the checkout—that much better.
Social isolation, on the other hand, is closely associated with health risks that are comparable to smoking and obesity. Research indicates that human connection is more important than income when it comes to happiness.
A 2014 study found that people who felt more connected to their community were significantly less likely to suffer a heart attack. On a seven-point scale created by researchers, people who had a stronger sense of community—those who spoke to strangers or others in their community—enjoyed a 17-percent lower heart attack risk for each point.
The health benefits are not exclusive to the instigator, either. When people are spoken to by a stranger, receive a thank-you card, or receive a random act of kindness, their happiness goes up too. The more connected people are, the better they tend to feel and the less stressed they are.
Stress, as we know, can play a major role in sleeplessness, physical pain, blood pressure, obesity, and heart-related illnesses.
So the next time you want to strike a conversation with someone you don’t know, go for it! You have far more to gain than to lose.
Devon Andre holds a bachelor’s of forensic science from the University of Windsor in Canada and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh. Andre is a journalist for BelMarraHealth, which first published this article.