Growing up, I was painfully shy. A friend in high school told me she thought I was snobby the first time we met, because I refused to make eye contact with her. Snobby? Moi??
To someone who was so lacking in confidence, the idea that high school me would think she was better than anyone was laughable. Striking up conversations with strangers was terrifying, even making small talk with acquaintances was a nightmare situation I did my best to avoid.
I don’t know when exactly it happened, but over the years things started to change. I realized, one day, that I could go on a date without getting nervous, answer questions in a job interview without my head going blank.
Though, even now, I wouldn’t say I’m quite on the opposite end of the scale. There are still situations that make me sweat through my best blouse: public speaking, karaoke, looking like the tin man come to life in a dance class.
In the longest study ever done on the topic, researchers discovered the one thing that most accurately predicted future happiness: the quality of our relationships.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old, the people who are happiest are the ones who have the most fulfilling relationships in their lives. In fact, their relationships impact all other areas of their lives, including their physical health and how many years they’ll live.
Unfortunately, more than one in five Americans report feelings of loneliness (and that was before the pandemic). As a lifelong introvert, I can definitely say I’ve spent a lot of time experiencing such feelings myself. I find myself envious of people I perceive to have more fulfilling social lives, wondering constantly how I can connect with more people.
I think this is a problem a lot of people in their 20s and 30s deal with. After you leave college, how do you make friends? Sure, you’ll probably make a few friends at work and you might get friendly with your roommates, but it’s certainly not as easy as when you were in school.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, particularly because this is something I want to work on next year. As I’ve continued to study the psychology behind happiness, I’ve seen the importance of social connections emphasized over and over again.
Sure, I have my wonderful family. I have some great best friends. I have my writing group. Yet, I still feel like my social calendar is relatively empty each week.
All big changes start with a bunch of little changes, so I decided to challenge myself. I don’t need to become best friends with everyone I meet, I just need to connect with them for a moment. So, I decided to ask everyone I came into contact with today how their day was going.
Such a small thing, right? Earlier today, I had a a checkup at the fertility clinic where I’ll be doing my egg freezing, so I asked the receptionist, the nurse who drew my blood, the doctor. Everyone’s smile grew a little when they heard the question. Some of them told me about their days, some said it was good and then politely asked me the same question.
But my absolute favorite interaction? The one I had with my Uber driver.
Like most people, I’ll usually just give the driver a friendly greeting and then busy myself on my phone or by staring with my eyes glazed over out the window. Not today! And I’m so glad I asked, because the driver absolutely lit up when he heard the question. He said, “It’s so nice of you to ask. Nobody ever asks me anything like that. Thank you for being so sweet.”
We ended up talking about his life in Jamaica before moving to the city, his pet cockatoo who he had to give away over the summer, his mother who passed away a few years ago.
The conversation was fascinating, and it was fun! The drive passed by in a flash—certainly preferable to sitting in lonely silence—and when he dropped me off, the driver thanked me again for chatting and wished me a wonderful week ahead.
Okay, so the Uber driver and I probably won’t end up becoming best friends, but this is how friendships start, relationships develop. With something as simple as an ordinary question. And even if it doesn’t go anywhere, the happy glow from a great conversation (and your bravery in initiating it) will stay with you and the other person for hours to come.
From now on, I’m going to keep asking strangers how their day is going. I challenge you to do the same. I think we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by the big things that can come from these little actions.