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The Happiness That Comes From Social Interaction

Nicholas Epley is the John Templeton Keller professor of behavioral science, and Neblar faculty fellow at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Dr. Epley’s main field of interest is on human judgments, social interactions, and happiness. Dr. Epley conducted an experiment where he had people on public transit start random conversations with the people they were traveling with.  Most of the people who agreed to participate in the experiment predicted that engaging in a conversation with strangers would not go well.  However, after they arrived at their destination all reported being happier and feeling that the conversations they engaged in were productive (even if it took them away from their planned solitary activity).  In the end, Dr. Epley concluded that social interactions, while avoided by many, actually make us happier.

This is an excerpt from an interview he did:

“I relayed our experiments to the folks who work on the trains here in Chicago.  The woman I was talking with was just a delightful person. She was fantastic. When I told her about the results of our experiment she said, "Oh, Nick.  I totally believe this, totally understand this, totally consistent with my experience. But you're not going to believe what we're going to do".

“What are you going to do?”

Well she said, "We're about to roll out a policy."

I said, "Okay, what's the policy?"

She said, "We're going to start putting quiet cars on all of our train lines".

I said "well why are you doing that?"

And she said, "Well, because we asked people what they wanted and this is what they said they wanted".

I said, "Really? That's what our people said too but it turns out they were wrong. “

I asked her, "Have you ever tried the opposite? Have you ever had like a chatty car where people get together and just you know, talk with each other and just kind of unwind at the end of the day or something?"

She said, "No, we've never had anything like that but we did have something that was sort of similar with the bar cars that go out, way out to the Northwest Suburbs in Chicago.

I said, “well do you have those anymore?”

She said, "No."

“Why don't you have them” I asked

"Well, they were becoming something of a safety issue".

I said, "Really?"

She said, "Yes, they were too crowded"

Often in life taking the easier, more comfortable path will not make us happier.  While the more comfortable path potentially creates a sense of safety and contentment, true happiness only comes when we step out of our comfort zones and connect with other people. Often times our avoidance of socializing comes from a fear of reaching out and being rejected.  We decide not to take the risk and choose to be less happy but content.  While we might be content with being content, this state of being will never ultimately bring us the happiness we seek.  While our smart phones allow us to isolate and check out, every time we look down and plug in, we miss an opportunity to reach out, connect, and experience joy.  So next time you are feeling like disconnecting and isolating, fight the fear, take the risk and try to connect.  You might be surprised at what happens.

Sat, August 24 2019 23 Av 5779