Can Random Strangers Improve Your Health? Here’s How

Think of the number of strangers you pass by every day.  This includes people you see as you walk down the street, the clerk at the grocery store, or a co-worker you see once a month in your office building but have never actually met.  All of these people can have a positive impact on your health.  Seems too good to be true, right?

Not so.  Research from the science of flourishing shows that these short interactions can improve your wellbeing, but it all depends on what you make of them.

When you take the time and offer a positive greeting, you can improve your own health and that of the other person.  This means making eye contact, smiling, and offering a friendly greeting.  You’re likely to get a similar response in return.

How could this simple change in how we approach others have such a strong impact?  As social beings, we have been designed to generate joy through the simple act of greeting. A positive, affirming greeting activates the “tend and befriend” nervous system that increases your feelings of joy, improves your heart regulation and your immune system.  True, the impact of any one greeting may be small, but the goal is to make the most of these many interactions and they will  add up throughout the day. 

According to Barb Fredrickson, a world renowned expert in positive psychology, these moments of positive emotions do not need to be long to be effective.  Instead, she says that wellbeing is about stringing together many positive moments throughout your day.  Repeated over time, these moments add up to long-term physical and psychological health. 

You can take it one step further with those you know.  Instead of a perfunctory greeting of “Hi, how are you?” where you aren’t really expecting an answer at all, you can take the time to actually make the greeting meaningful.  Use your facial expression, eye contact, and physical stance to show the other person that you are actually curious about how they are doing.  You would be surprised at the impact this can have.  You will turn this superficial interaction into one that uplifts the other person and yourself in the process.

Bottomline, you have the opportunity to uplift your life and your health.  But it requires making an intentional effort. Beginning your journey begins with reaching out with a smile and a warm greeting.

Reach out to learn more research based practices to improve your wellbeing!

Published by dramymyoung

Organizational Psychologist & Professor

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