Talking to Strangers. Could it be the Key to Happiness?


If there were such a thing as the Talk Olympics, I would undoubtedly win the Gold Medal in every event. Forever. As a child my parents would lovingly (?) stuff food in my mouth to get a few moments of respite.

However, this only resulted in my thighs touching at my knees from the age of three. There wasn’t a person I couldn’t talk to (or in many cases, at). My school report cards were littered with phrases such as, “delightful, but chatty”, “sometimes a distraction in class” and “never short of words”.

The Key to Happiness?

But the sport I revel in most is talking to complete strangers. I’m not sure why I get a kick out of this. Could it be that there’s a person who hasn’t heard my charming quips before? Is it because I’m nosey? Or is it something more? Is it the answer to happiness?

A Friend You Haven’t Met Yet

For most people, striking up a convo with a stranger, or as I like to call them ‘a friend you haven’t yet met’ (that sounded less cheesy in my head!) is so far out of their comfort zones, they’d rather walk over red-hot coals.

Take my husband, for example, he’s the epitome of stoic mankind. Rarely has much to say to the people he DOES know, and even less to strangers. It took some getting used to on his part to understand this idiosyncrasy of mine. I’ll chat to a man, woman, baby, waiter, ticket collector – whoever. I recall one day we were at lunch and sitting opposite us was a hulking mass of a man, in full leathers and covered in tattoos – with, I’m guessing, his gang. I kept trying to get his attention, as I wanted to KNOW what his body art was all about. A few glares from hubby and number of kicks under the table I stopped staring. However, coincidentally we both went to pay our bills and it was the opportune time for me to satisfy my urge. Three minutes later, this fearsome looking man – Caleb – was excitedly describing every one of his 47 tattoos! It still is one my favourite stories to tell.

Why Are we so Afraid of Strangers?

So why do we as humans shy away from talking to strangers? Have we devolved to the point that we are so caught up in our little bubbles to take a peek around us and say “hello”? Is it fear of ‘stranger danger’ or merely a ‘couldn’t be stuffed’ attitude? My guts churn, achingly, on my weekday commute as all around me people, the same people I see every day on the same train, pretend not to recognise me or are so engrossed with their smartphones that they look right through me. I actually give them names in my head. Is this weird or a way to bring back a sense of community?

Making Small Talk

The reaction I get from most people initially is one of shock, and then a smile or a simple conversation about the weather or current affairs. It’s unfortunate that most people are taken aback from a simple “Hi” and are cynical about the pleasantry. We live in a society people! I challenge you all to try it. It doesn’t take much to say “G’day” and it most certainly won’t make you LESS happy (obviously, exercise common sense and don’t go sharing your credit card details or address to the person you’re sitting next to on the bus!).

Despite the ‘norm’, I think I’ll stick to my idiosyncrasy and hope that in the not-too-distant future talking to strangers will no longer be an oddity of mine but normal social interaction.

The Day I Met Shirley

Last week I met Shirley. Shirley and her friend Betty were coming home from a matinee performance of Strictly Ballroom. Dressed resplendently these beautiful women caught my attention. They looked a little tired and weary on the peak-hour train, ignored by all around them. So, I smiled and commented on their beautiful outfits. Instantly, they perked up and were falling over each other to tell me all about their day, the show, their senior discount, the meal they shared and a friendship that spanned 40 years. I allowed them talk. I listened. It dawned on me that I was, in fact, the stranger. The smiles on their faces were priceless and reinforced a truth to me: talking to strangers DOES make you happy.

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