I think most people go through a lonely time in their life, usually during adolescence. Think back on how miserable that time was, when it seemed as if the only person willing to pick up the phone for you was mom or dad. A 72 year study conducted by Harvard University concluded with the evidence that quality interactions with other people can be the biggest factor in having a more fulfilling life- not fame, wealth or social status like our generation tends to think.
If encounters with other people is the key to happiness, then why do we avoid each other. You see it all the time on campus, usually in the form of everyone having headphones in or burying their faces in a smartphone. We don’t nobody wave even wave, smile, or greet each other anymore. We really ought to go back to our roots, humans were always meant to be social creatures.
In his book, “Mindwise,” Nicholas Epley documents an experiment he did aboard a New York subway. In this experiment he asked a group of commuters what would be the least desirable activity whilst sitting on the subway: (1. Sitting alone, doing nothing, 2. Perusing a book or phone, 3. Chatting with a stranger).
The vast majority of people chose number 3, chatting with a stranger would be the most unpleasant occurrence. Using the same group of commuters, Epley divided them up randomly into three groups, with each group partaking in one of the three options. Interestingly enough, the group that was chosen to chat with a stranger reported having the MOST pleasant time. While the group that sat alone reported having the worst. This is directly paradoxical to what the commuters hypothesized. People are simply afraid of the same human connection that we desire and crave the most.
I usually ride my bike to and from campus but last Friday I decided to put this to the test. I rode the bus for fun, in hopes to engage anyone in a conversation (preferably a striking female). I boarded the bus at Forrest Drive right around 11. Most of the seats were taken so I decided I would stand. I’d like to think of myself as more gregarious than most so striking up a conversation was no problem.
I picked out the closest gentleman that wasn’t wearing earphones and chatted him up. I asked the usual questions, name, major, life plans. At first this gentleman was unnerved, a little conscientious perhaps, but as I received his answers with a smile and positive affirmations, he quickly reciprocated my enthusiasm and vibrancy. Pretty soon a few others butted in, they started voicing their names and personas.
While this tipping point happened, I was paying attention to some of the others, the ones still not conversing. Headphones were coming out of ears, heads were perking up. They may not have spoken up, but they sure seemed like they wanted to. I don’t doubt that had I stood in silence (you know, what the “normal” people do), the bus trip would have been the same bleak experience that it always has been.