Random acts of chit chat
Last updated 9/20/2019 at 1:20pm | View PDF
I recently read about a study that investigated the relationship of human happiness to random social contact.
Scientists found that even momentary social interaction with a stranger increases our well-being. As simple as making eye contact or smiling and nodding - whatever the interaction was - it apparently makes an actual, chemical difference in our brains.
This story seems similar to a refrain we've been hearing for a while now: the idea that, for all the technological connections we've established, we are too isolated and need to look up from our phones and engage more with the outside world. With this new study, part of our happiness itself appears to correlate with our contact with strangers.
This all made perfect sense to me, but not so my Sensible Husband, who thinks small-talk on the Metra and dental appointments are equally enjoyable. He is the guy in the Quiet Car who puts in his AirPods to avoid hollow pleasantries.
"Can we all just stipulate that, yes, it's Monday and, yes, the weekend went by fast?" he'll complain.
I, on the other hand, never think twice about sharing banalities. I will randomly blather about nothing at all for no reason whatsoever. I also weirdly tend to try to make eye contact with fellow shoppers at Jewel or Target, for example, and then will feel oddly offended if people don't smile back. I sometimes feel compelled to discuss my grocery purchases on the conveyor belt, noting, for example, how bizarre it must seem that I am buying silken tofu and avocados along with XXtra Flaming Hot Cheetos. The checkout person, who surely has seen wackier purchases than mine, is rarely impressed. But does that stop me from mentioning it? I think not.
This practice mortifies my teenaged children, who label my conversation attempts as "awkward" instead of "charming" and "well-intentioned." At least I still have the dog.
I don't work outside the home, so I talk to Ollie more than talk to my immediate family. He is simply around me more any of the household humans. I neither bore nor embarrass him, even on our walks, when I pretty much never shut up. Put that leash in my hand and I turn into a life-sized Chatty Cathy. I'll talk about the weather, construction, or Ollie's, ahem, bodily functions endlessly.
If you are out with your dog, I have probably talked to you. It's a given. No doubt some of you have put in your AirPods or "taken a call" to avoid the Crazy Basset Hound Lady Who Never Shuts Up, and I can't really blame you. I acknowledge my behavior is likely pathological. But I am confident that the chemical happiness in my brain must be truly spectacular.
- Susan O'Byrne of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]