The Surprising Positive Impact of Casual Friendships

How taking the time to cultivate “weak ties” can open doors to new sources of happiness.

Posted in , Jun 14, 2019

Power of casual friendships

I remember the feeling of walking down the hallway in high school. Everyone had their own routine around saying “hi” or nodding and smiling as we passed each other en route to class. For close friends, the greeting was a no-brainer and was always happily reciprocated. But for others, there was wider variation in whether a greeting was offered or returned.

Those “others” are what the sociologist Mark Granovetter famously called “weak ties” in a 1973 journal article. And while friendships with them might have been spelled with a lowercase “f,” his research shows that simple gestures of casual greeting and other connections can have a tremendous impact on our overall happiness and well-being. 

Even borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor fosters a feeling of a caring community. Creating casual or “weak ties” relationships can even open doors, from getting fresh recommendations from others (think doctors, mechanics, travel ideas) to building greater empathy and less loneliness for everyone involved.

Importantly, this kind of connection also exposes us to a rich variety of information and advice, things you might not know about if you only turned to your most trusted inner circle for every social interaction.

“The people we know that we’re close to tend to know the same things we do and so it doesn’t expand our information,” Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Essex, recently told The New York Times. “The argument is we have more to learn from the people that we don’t already know so well.”

The next time you find yourself waiting for your barista to make coffee or when your PTA or church meeting ends, ask yourself who you haven’t spoken to recently. At the very least, don’t forget to say, “hi.” It could make your life a llittle better in a surprising, new way.

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