Loose social interactions can often be seen as superficial, superfluous and not necessary but research has shown how important they are to enrich our lives, to build more empathy and to create more sense of belonging. My wife (Steve here) is from Poland and she can often joke about how in Ireland we adore talking about the weather that anywhere you go the weather is always our favourite conversation. Whereas in Poland there is less emphasis on small talk, however research now shows how important these small interactions are to many aspects of our wellbeing. These are the small chats that we have during our day, they can often be missed or dismissed as being irrelevant.
Research suggests that these weak social connections have been found to enrich our days and to add more texture and variety to our lives. Those chats with the barista, the hello to someone on your way to work, the chat to a taxi driver can help us become more empathetic, give us more recommendations and can help garner us with a greater sense of belonging and less loneliness.
A study in 2014, tested whether well-being is related to weak ties rather than close friends and families. They found that students experienced greater happiness and feelings of belonging on days when they interacted with more classmates than usual. The results implied that these weak social ties are very important to our well being and our sense of belonging.
As we get older our number of friends and acquaintances drops according to a study in 2016, as often our priorities shift from looking for a partner to work and responsibilities. Staying socially engaged and these loose social connections become even more important
Also these weak social ties can further enmesh us to feel more a part of a community, especially after we move or relocate.
Many of us think its not worth our time to have these loose interactions or lower level social connections but by taking a few minutes to engage with someone we see regularly has been shown to increase our satisfaction with life
Also by having these lower level friendships in places we visit regularly like a sports club, a cafe, a church we are able to create valuable mini networks, these help add in more diversity into our social network, add more kinds of support and encourage more empathy and see others perspective. By having these looser social networks with peoples from different backgrounds and different circumstances it builds our empathy research has shown . Also discovering your neighbour is a fireman or a ballerina can add some texture and variety to your life which we can all learn from.
A study in 2018 found that its takes 30 hours to form a “casual” friendship and while a 5 minute chat with a barista in your local cafe might seem meaningless but overtime these loose interactions can be the basis of deeper friendships.
The summary of this is that these small interactions or little small talking experiences are really important to our wellbeing, so next time you see someone who you bump into frequently or your local barista why not try break the ice, say hello, how are you or do as the Irish do and comment on the weather.
In the next section we run through our tips to build more community and reconnection.