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What if teaching kids to fear strangers damaged their present and future happiness?

It may be so. Two social scientists recently conducted studies in New York City investigating the psychological effects of brief interactions with strangers, like smiling at people on the sidewalk or exchanging a few pleasantries with the barista during a coffee order.

The results overwhelmingly showed that brief connections with strangers make people feel better, partly because we repress our grumpiness and present a kinder face to people we don’t know. Feeling seen is also important for humans, so something as inconsequential as holding the door for the person behind you can give both of you a lift — just because she knows you spotted her.

Read more about these studies (and why efficiency is overrated) in the New York Times article from last Sunday.

And don’t skip the slideshow “Touching Strangers,” a photography project showing strangers in contact. The fourth image is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.

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