- A new study finds that you can be happier by connecting with many different people.
- Some experts say that chatting with strangers online can boost your mood.
- Chatting with online strangers has advantages over talking with friends.
Interacting online with strangers can make you happier, experts say.
A recent study found a link between happiness and a term that the researchers coined, “relational diversity.” Researchers found a relationship between having connections with many different people and people’s satisfaction. The same may hold true for doing things like posting on Reddit.
“Talking to strangers online can be a form of escapism for people,” Beth Ribarsky, a professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Illinois Springfield and who was not involved in the study, told Lifewire in an email interview. “A stranger doesn’t know your history, so you may be able to connect without a worry about how they may view you based upon your past.”
The researchers at Harvard Business School analyzed the data of about 50,000 participants from public databases. The scientists examined the type of relationships and number of daily interactions with family, friends, kids, and strangers. They found regular, daily interactions with a variety of people were linked to a person's greater overall sense of happiness and positive well-being.
"People's time is scarce, such that increasing the number or frequency of social interactions can prove challenging," the authors write in the paper. "Our results suggest that a more relationally diverse social portfolio may offer a time-neutral means of shaping well-being."
Christine Kingsley, a registered nurse with experience in mental health treatment, said conversing, in any form, can be healing. She said that virtual reality games, social media interaction, and online forums are among the online activities that deliver emotional satisfaction to users.
"What can people do to make connections with strangers online that would make them happy? Connecting with the right strangers on the internet who could make them happy requires users to have a determined set of metrics on who they want to communicate with and what kind of relationship they want to be established," she added.
The Harvard research is one of many studies that find talking to strangers good for you. For example, a 2014 study by University of Chicago researchers found that people would be happy if they participated in “Talk to me Day.” The researchers asked bus and train commuters in the Chicago area to either talk with a person next to them, sit in solitude, or continue their normal routine. The study concluded that those who talked to strangers reported a significantly happier ride than those who kept to themselves—even though a survey of a separate group of commuters predicted the opposite.
Ribarsky said that you could get the same boost as the Chicago study participants from chatting with people online. "Despite seeing so many forms of trolls or cyberbullying, there are actually numerous online support groups," she added.
"Online support groups are especially instrumental for individuals who may not know people who are in a similar plight—it can help find a community/outlet of understanding. For example, an individual who is not yet comfortable coming out to their family or friends might find support online."
Ribarsky said there are advantages to chatting with strangers rather than friends. "When communicating with someone new, you can carefully consider what you choose to or not to disclose, constructing your desired image—showing our best selves," she added. "Or, conversely, sometimes people feel safer disclosing online because it is a faceless environment. This can be freeing as you don't have the awkwardness of looking someone in the face and seeing how they react as you share your information."
Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse, said in an email interview that many people have reservations about the safety of talking to strangers online. “However, some people find comfort in communicating with others in online communities, like Facebook groups,” she added.
The connection you find online isn't always romantic, Mitchell said. Some people exchange experiences about work and health, seeking comfort in knowing they aren't alone in their struggles. "Compare it to venting to a trusted friend, only that you can now mask yourself as an anonymous group member to receive help in a judgment-free zone," she added.