For a really long time, I was that person who would walk the other way if I saw someone I knew while I was out doing errands. It had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my mood and the fact that I am naturally an introvert. But lately, I’ve tried an experiment that has made me a lot happier. And it just might work for you, too.
It started one day when I was feeling down and thought about canceling my hair appointment so I didn’t have to see or talk to anyone. I just wasn’t in the mood, at all. But I ended up going anyway, and I was so glad I did. As soon as I sat in the chair and started chatting with my hairdresser, a woman I consider a friend, my mood was instantly lifted. When I walked out, not only did I have a new head of hair, I had a mood makeover.
The next day I was in the grocery store and someone I went to high school with found me browsing the soup aisle. I hadn’t seen him in years, and we ended up catching up for almost twenty minutes. I walked away feeling like a new person. The conversation lifted me up.
I had accidentally stumbled onto something really important: A recent study found it only takes one meaningful conversation a day to make you feel happier. And while in-person seems to have the strongest effect on our moods, I can attest that online friends and texting with close friends and family members does the trick pretty well too. Not to mention isolating yourself too much can lead to serious health conditions.
I’m a natural introvert. But I’ve always valued quality conversations with friends and family; it’s just that small talk makes me feel depleted. I love getting together with my girlfriends. And there’s something about having a great conversation with one of my sisters or kids that makes me feel rejuvenated and connected.
But there are lots of times I decline invitations because as a single mom, I feel like there are other, more important things I should be doing — stuff like working or working around the house. I’m scared that if I slow down for a moment, things will fall apart. It’s been kind of lonely and I’ve wanted to change that about myself.
After realizing how much better I felt after having conversations with my high school friend and my hairdresser, I decided I needed more of the same thing, but more intentionally. I decided to try it for a few weeks to see what happened. I made it my goal to have a meaningful conversation with someone at least once a day, even if it was the person who rang me up at McDonald’s for my morning soda.
Well, this is what happened: I was just happier.
It’s that simple. And it only took one. It took my mind off of myself and allowed me to focus on other people. Instead of stressing about my schedule and wondering how I was going to get everything done, taking fifteen minutes to chat with someone else cleared my head and allowed me to see what was truly important in life: connection, experiences, and meaningful relationships.
Spoiler alert: I am not the center of the universe and helping other people work through something or just being there to listen to them felt way more important than telling myself the world was going to stop spinning if I didn’t get everything on my to-do list done.
One day I was in Target and I actually approached someone I used to work with. The old me would have clutched my cart and slowly backed away but I pushed myself past my normal boundaries. Once again, I found after our chat I felt really good and happy. I helped her pick out new towels and we agreed to meet up again soon.
People started reaching out to me. My friends and family — who I’d intentionally texted more often just to see how they were — did the same. We started talking more regularly and getting together more.
I also started getting approached more in public by people I didn’t know and found myself having great conversations with them. I think being open to the conversation caused my body language to shift, perhaps my RBF (resting b*tch face) softened, and I was more approachable.
An 80-year-old woman told me all about how she always put the shopping cart back because her mother told her to. A woman I see every day while grabbing my morning caffeine told me all about how excited she was to go to Boston to see her best friend. And just this week I was in Home Depot looking at a light fixture and a nice man gave me a bunch of pointers on how to connect it, which ended up being super helpful.
So, next time you see someone you know while you are running errands or don’t want to pick up the phone when your friend calls go ahead and try it. You might be surprised at how fast your life changes.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.