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The benefits of interacting with a new acquaintance outweigh the potential downsides.

Forming and maintaining strong relationships has been linked with many health benefits – from reduced stress levels to healthier lifestyle habits and even a longer lifespan. But what about the acquaintances you interact with on a regular basis? 

Research on the impact of social interactions on our overall well-being has largely been done on close, personal relationships.

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But a series of studies done by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver suggests that the number of acquaintances we encounter in our day-to-day routines may also benefit our overall happiness.

Here’s why having more interactions with acquaintances regularly may impact happiness and how to use this to your advantage.

What Are Acquaintances?

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When looking at social circles, there are a few different levels of connection. Our inner circle typically includes close friends and family members who know us intimately and keep in touch with us frequently. Then there are looser ties. These may be friends of circumstance, such as old coworkers we catch up with every handful of months or the parents of our children’s friends who we spend time with during play dates. 

Acquaintances are more loosely tied than these types of connections. These are the people we don’t know intimately and may never spend one-on-one time with but who recognize us as part of their routine.

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An acquaintance can be a gym mate you regularly see at a fitness class, a barista at your corner coffee shop who knows your order or a neighbor who waves hello when the two of you cross paths. 

Acquaintances can be people you see regularly or interact with once but don’t cross paths with again. For example, you may have become acquainted with someone sitting across from you on a long train ride while you commiserated about the delays. Though you likely won’t see this person again, that interaction may have made you feel more connected because you both shared the same experience. 

Why Are Acquaintances Important?

two women speak on the street
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Long periods of loneliness have been shown to significantly affect our overall health and well-being. Persistent loneliness can lead to poor sleep patterns, elevated stress levels, high blood pressure and a compromised immune system. People who suffer from loneliness are at higher risk for depression and even suicide. 

Social interactions are the antidote to loneliness – but making new friends can be difficult, especially later in life when many have already formed their inner social circles. Developing relationships with others also takes time and effort from both parties involved. 

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This is why new research on the power of acquaintances is so important. During the series of studies conducted, participants who were instructed to increase the number of interactions with acquaintances throughout the study reported lower feelings of loneliness. 

While it may not be possible for everyone to go out and easily make one or several new friends, increasing your number of acquaintances is doable for almost anyone suffering from loneliness.

How to Interact With Acquaintances to Boost Happiness

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(Photo by Richard Boyle on Unsplash)

Finding small moments of connection with casual acquaintances can be a powerful way to increase social interactions and fight against loneliness. Here are a few small ways to get started.

Pay attention. If it seems as though you don’t come across many people regularly in your current routine, it’s possible that you haven’t been paying enough attention. So many opportunities for connection and interaction get missed because we’re constantly glued to our phones. The next time you’re out and about, make it a point to keep your phone out of sight and count how many people you encounter on a given day. 

Initiate the interaction. Social interactions work both ways. If you and your neighbor never speak, try offering a sincere “Good morning” or “How are you doing today?” or even a friendly nod or wave the next time you cross paths. 

Remember names and faces. Make it a point to remember the people who work or frequent the places you visit most often, then ask their names and introduce yourself. Remembering someone’s name makes a person feel respected, and the chances are they’ll make it a point to learn yours as well. 

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Get involved in your community. Volunteering is an easy way to increase your interactions with acquaintances while providing good service to others. Helping others has been shown to reduce stress and boost feelings of happiness and accomplishment. 

Participate in online forums. If you’re not able to get out as much as you’d like, online social acquaintances can still leave you feeling less lonely. If there’s a show you regularly watch, participating in the conversations about it weekly on social media groups like Reddit gives you access to others who are interested in the same thing that you are. 

Cheer on a local sports team. Sitting in the crowd at a sporting event means you’re surrounded by people who love the same thing you do, giving you plenty of easy opportunities to interact and feel like you’re a part of something. Feeling like you are part of a community helps boost feelings of overall well-being – which makes spectator sports doubly beneficial. 

Summary

two women speak on a bench
(Photo by Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash)

Social connections are extremely important for our overall health, well-being and longevity. But circumstances such as aging, having close friends move into different life phases or having to relocate can cause us to become less socially active. While growing and establishing new close, personal friendships can be a large undertaking, small interactions with acquaintances can go a long way in keeping loneliness at bay.

If interacting with strangers feels difficult, know that interacting with an acquaintance is a low-stakes risk. Feelings of rejection would likely be greater if someone turned down your request to hang out than an unreturned wave from a neighbor. The benefits of interacting with a new acquaintance outweigh the potential downsides. Start small by offering a friendly wave or hello and look for ways to increase these interactions over time.

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