Hug a Stranger?

By Shlomo  Maital

Happy Money

  I’ve blogged before about the book by UBC social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and Harvard Business School marketing expert Michael Norton, “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.”  In their New York Times Op-Ed, the two scholars report on an interesting experiment done by one of their students, Gillian M. Sandstrom.  The idea was to test the hypothesis that what matters most to us is our closest ties (with spouses and close relatives), not  interactions with minor random strangers.   It’s an extension of their work that shows how badly we spend our money, and how it often fails to bring us happiness.

    She had her subjects carry clickers, one red, one black, all day.  They clicked the red one when they interacted with someone close to them.  They clicked the black one when they interacted with someone they didn’t know.

    Her finding?  Introverts and extroverts alike felt happier on days when they had more social interactions.  Not surprising.  But  she also found that “interactions with [strangers] correlated at least as highly with happiness as interactions with strong ties [ our loved ones].”  

   “Even the bit players in our lives may influence our well-being,” they note.

  So – you may not quite be up to hugging a stranger, and the results may not be great if you do,   but,  why not chat with a stranger?  In an age when people are increasingly alienated, alone, isolated, even with Facebook and Twitter (or perhaps because of them),   a face-to-face conversation with a stranger can sometimes provide great comfort.

     In the end, human beings are highly social animals.  Technology seems bent on making us over into go-it-alone individuals.  Time to fight back.