In last Sunday's New York Times Sunday Review, Michael Norton and Elizabeth W. Dunn wrote an article about breaking the unwritten rules of not making eye contact or talking to strangers during our daily commute - bus, subway, elevator, walking. I loved the article, and made a note to myself to write a future Blog piece about it. That "future" Blog piece became very present when I received an e-mail a few minutes ago from my friend, Jason Nochlin of GaggleAmp.
Those who know me well will often ask a mutual acquaintance they are meeting for the first time the question: "How did you meet Al - was it the Red Line or the Green Line of the T?"
So, I guess I am notorious for striking up conversations with strangers and turning those strangers into friends. My sister, Di, often jokes about my gregarious nature and ironically says: "Someday, I hope you can find a way to break out of your shell!"
The Sunday Times article summarizes recent studies that show the real benefit of "breaking out of one's shell." Based on the latest research, it turns out that our tacit rules and unspoken social conventions about not talking to strangers leads to unhealthy emotions and unhappy work days. The article recounts an experiment conducted by social scientists in Chicago. A control group was told to conduct themselves as they normally would during their commute; members of a test group were paid $5 to strike up conversations with strangers. Members of each group reported on their emotional state at the end of the day. Typically, psychologists and sociologists tell us that the daily commute is the least emotionally fulfilling part of a person's day, yet the test group in this experiment reported dramatically more positive emotions throughout the day as a result of having reached out to break the ice with a stranger.
My friend Jason wrote: "I think this should be called the "Dr Chase" experiment :)"
Let's take Jason's challenge and conduct a "Dr. Chase experiment." I encourage you to do two things. First, read the full article linked below. Second, pick a series of days in the next week in which you will determine to reach out to at least one stranger during your normal commute. Make note at the end of the day if there is any discernible difference in your mood, energy level, outlook on life, etc. Please report back to me with your results - in person, by e-mail or phone or in the comment section below.
I am heading for Fenway Park - by way of the Red Line and then the Green Line. Let the commuters beware!
N Y Times: "Hello Stranger"