We’re at that point in the semester when people start complaining about being lonely and sad. The weeks of easy homework and massive Thursday parties are gone. The first wave of midterms is underway. Suddenly, 15 credits seem like they are going to take up a lot more time than you originally planned.
It’s during these weeks, leading all the way to around Thanksgiving season, that socializing falls to a low, and Stony Brook lives up to its reputation of being a social black hole. I remember reading posts on Stony Brook Secrets about people who claimed to have literally no friends, no social life and to be horribly sad.
There’s a frustratingly easy solution put forth by Kio Stark, author of the book When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You.
Talk to people.
It’s even more frustrating knowing that Stark is a Brooklyn resident so I can’t blame why her opinion shouldn’t apply to me, an aloof New Yorker. She makes it clear that she’s talking to New Yorkers in her TED Talk, which now has over a million views.
She cites one study where a group of commuters were split into three groups: One group was instructed to try to engage fellow commuters in conversation, another group was told to enjoy their solitude, and the third group was to act as they normally would, and then they were to overview who of each group had the most positive experience. The conversation group reported enjoying their commute the most out of all the groups. In separate study done by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Starbucks customers who treated their baristas like acquaintances reported more positive experiences than those who were told to prioritize efficiency when ordering their beverages.
According to Stark, these kinds of interactions can reduce racial bias, foster societal harmony and increase meaning and joy.
Obviously, this doesn’t that mean you should attempt to have a deep, meaningful conversation with every single person running past you to class, nor does this mean you should engage in conversation with someone who is clearly disinterested or uncomfortable. Also, I haven’t seen any studies that compare these results between scientifically defined introverts and extroverts.
But generally, if you make an effort to smile and wave at that boy who passes you in the hall or to ask that girl sitting by you on the Staller Steps how her day is going, you will improve both your day and theirs.
From personal experience, I think people generally appreciate genuineness. If you can find something genuine to say to another person, everyone can gain from that conversation. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but people become really open once they sense that authenticity.
Compliment someone on their clothing. Ask someone for book recommendations. Offer free hugs. Invite someone to one of your club’s events.
My favorite way to engage in a short meaningful interaction is with props. For only the cost of shipping, thedailysmile.com will send cards that say, “Keep smiling,” “Happy by choice,” “Be a good friend,” “Be kind always,” “Don’t complain. Don’t blame,” and my personal favorite, “Did I tell you how much I appreciate you?” that you could hand out. They offer cards in 21 different languages. Their goal is to distribute 10 million cards by 2020.
This is Stony Brook, and we are going to have rough weeks ahead as the temperature shifts lower, the classes get harder and the painful Olympics over whose major is harder continues. You can’t change the number of assignments, tests, papers or hours of class you have, but with a little emotional investment, you can improve your sense of meaning, enjoyment and happiness throughout the semester.