Strangers Becoming Friends

One of my go-to podcasts is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, a weekly show discussing the week’s news with three comedians. Paula Poundstone is one of the best comedians on the show; she’s goofy and always has hilarious, random comments. She started a new podcast, Live from the Poundstone Institute, where they talk about various studies, including inviting the researchers to explain the results and how the study was conducted. I listened to an episode while traveling in Costa Rica and one of the studies was about how when you talk to a stranger, it makes you happier. As a millennial (barely, like 5%) and yogi, I’m always on the pursuit for happiness, so I was instantly intrigued by this study. The researcher in charge explained that they had three groups:

  1. they were told to do what they normally do on the train (which, in this day and age, is probably listen to podcasts and music with headphones in, and not talk to anyone) aka the control group
  2. they were told explicitly not to talk to anyone
  3. this group was told to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to them on the train.

The conclusion of the study was that the group who talked with strangers was happier than the other people.

As I write the draft of this blog post, I am in Costa Rica with my friend Shelley. Last night we went out for drinks at a nearby bar. Immediately, a drunk idiot approached Shelley. Sitting at the bar was another girl by herself. She looked at me with a look of pity, that understood look between women of “yes, that guy is a complete idiot, and I’m sorry you have to deal with him”. Shelley expertly navigated the conversation with the drunkard, while this new girl and I looked on and started chatting. We introduced ourselves, sharing that we only knew a little of each other’s languages. Her boyfriend came a few minutes later; he, too, spoke only a little English. The guy sitting next to us offered me his chair. Eventually, the idiot left my friend alone, and so the girl at the bar, her boyfriend, the guy who offered me his chair, his cousin, Shelley, and me struck up a conversation in our mutual words of understanding. We moved onto the next bar, drank a little bit more, loosened up, danced the Latin moves. By the end of the night, we six strangers became friends.

Today, we all met at the beach. We spent six hours swimming, hiking, exploring, laughing, and eating ice cream. The couple, the cousins, and the amigas didn’t need a study to prove that when you talk to a stranger, you are happier. The smiles, the photos, the laughs, and the sunburns all prove that happiness comes when you open yourself up to other people.


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