Editorial: Stranger connections and dealing with the “blues”

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by KORIE MARSHALL, EDITOR

“Blue Monday” was this week – the third Monday in January, and the most depressing day of the year, at least according to a travel agency looking to market winter travel. There might be some pseudo-science behind it, like people have probably gotten their credit card bills from Christmas, and although the days are getting slightly longer, it’s still cold and pretty dark up here in the northern hemisphere. And of course everyone hates Mondays.

Being aware of patterns, especially with our own moods, can definitely help us get through some low points, but I don’t think marketing ideas like Blue Monday really help (except for maybe the travel company that came up with the idea). Sometimes they do strike a chord though, and ideas catch on and spread through popular culture – I’ve just learned about Blue Monday this year, and it’s apparently been around since 2005. But I learned about it in the context of how to avoid the blues – little things you can do to make yourself feel better. And one of them is talking to strangers.

January is generally a time that I like to hibernate a bit – stay off the winter roads if I can, curl up by the fire lots and watch old movies, but last week I was doing something different. I drove to Rossland to meet up with some organizations that work across the Columbia Basin, and I found myself talking with a lot of strangers.

Talking to strangers on public transit is one of those things that many people try to avoid, because they think it’s going to be uncomfortable. But there is science out there that shows people are happier when they talk to strangers on the subway or bus or flight. Scientists think we tend to remember the bad experiences – which are far less common – more than the good, and we therefore limit our opportunities to experience the good feelings we get simply by talking to someone we don’t know.

Some have suggested the good feelings come because we try to get people to like us, so we try to be funny and likeable. And we probably smile more, which is also shown to make us happier. Those things often mean the stranger smiles back at us, which also makes us happy.

Those things may be true, but I think it may also be because we recognize connections and share great ideas when we actually start talking to someone.

While I was in Rossland, I talked to the driver of the free shuttle bus to Red Mountain, and it turns out we have a connection – he’s lived in the Robson Valley. I think the free shuttle bus is a great idea too. I worked for three days with a bunch of people I’d never met before, but who came together because we know we can get things done more efficiently if we work together. It reminded me that although there are differences between many places in BC, we also have a lot of similarities, and a lot of common issues that people are working on. And – rather randomly – I met a guy who is working on some interesting ideas about connecting communities and artists, and using a new business model in BC, a community contribution corporation, to help sustain communities and organizations. It is
an idea that has inspired me, and I plan to look further into – once I catch up from a very long week away.

So, it’s still January, and I still want to sit by a warm fire. But because of some interesting conversations with strangers, I have a few new things to think about while I’m curled up, ways to build connections and learn from what others are doing, and that makes me happy.