Michele Attias Life Coach

Talking To Strangers Can Boost Your Happiness Levels

Ever since we could speak as toddlers, we have been told not to talk to strangers. Whilst this might have been totally appropriate when we were 4 years old, we continue to use this life mantra as we transition into adulthood.

According to an accumulated body of research that has been done by the Scientific American, it has been proven that people are happier after talking to strangers, even if they predict from the offset that they will detest it.

I experienced this a few days ago when I entered a train carriage in the early morning rush hour and as I sat down I noticed a man sitting across from me sobbing uncontrollably and inconsolably.

He was holding a bottle of beer tightly as if his life depended on it. His loud sobs could be heard throughout the carriage. The people watched in the same way we watch a television programme that is fictional and can be switched off at any moment.

He continued to sob and wail. His eyes were red and he was using his worn sleeve as a make believe tissue to wipe his nose which by now was turning a bright shade of red.

I had just stepped into the train at this moment and the challenge here was twofold. Not only was he was sitting in a place I could not ignore, but being a coach and previously a therapist, this is like waving a juicy prime of beef to a hungry lion.

I nudged the lady next to me and asked “Have you checked if he’s okay”. She responded true to what I have come to expect; “Ignore him, he’s probably drunk”.

Of course I couldn’t leave it. I make a living out of listening to people, just because he hasn’t paid me to coach him, I was not going to ignore his plea for help.

“What’s wrong?” My question punctuated the air.

“Do you know where I’ve come from?” He replied, as he wiped his eyes and continued to weep.

“I’ve just came out of jail where I spent the night, because my schizophrenic girlfriend accused me of hitting her. The thing is, I suffer from depression, she’s a schizophrenic who has 3 children, I’ve got 4 children of my own and and she is currently pregnant. She’s got a bun in the oven and it’s mine. She went out last night to get sausages and chips for the kids and she never returned.”

He bursts out crying again, while I sat there with my mouth wide open in shock. I was astonished at how this man’s life had just been presented to me with such ease. This is the life behind the ‘drunkard’ weeping on the train.

He took another sip of his bottle, like a baby wanting comfort from his milk.

“Does the beer help you”? I asked, more from curiosity then anything else.

“Yes it does”, he replied.

“Where are the children?” I asked, wearing my Child Protection hat which I have never been able to shake off.

“At home, I’m going to see them now and I will tell them that I’m leaving them. I have to, I love them so much as if they were my own”.

He burst into tears again.

I could see clearly how much he loved them and I already felt the emotion of having to say goodbye to these young beings you adore, but simply can’t endure staying with a partner who’s highly dysfunctional. Such was the dilemma he was facing, and such were the tears of loss that were pouring out of him.

He was deeply scared, emotional and confused.

Meanwhile the rest of the train passengers sat staring ahead of them as if they had more important things to do.

His face then took a different form, he almost looked enlightened “You know”, he said as if he had experienced a deep moment of insight. “Talking to you has made me feel so much better. I feel better, I feel happier”.

With this comment, he stood up, blessed me and stepped gingerly out of the train and back into his highly dysfunctional life, whilst I continued the journey onto mine.

I’m not downplaying my coaching, but I literally did not coach this man. My only comments were “I’m sorry to hear that” and “This must be so hard for you to deal with” and I nodded every so often whilst truly empathising deeply with his dilemma.

I remember the best selling Author and Coach Michael Neill stating;

If all you did was tell a lamppost your goals for each day, they would still be far more likely to happen.

When I reflected on the situation and peeled through the layers of this mans story, he was publicly expressing his sadness by weeping openly, waiting for someone to ask him if he was feeling okay.

He only wanted to speak to another person to receive some acknowledgement, validation and understanding.

We live in a society that in all probability dismisses him as a drunkard with no job, no prospects and limited money to feed his step children and children he helped bring into the world.

His sobs masked a desire to simply have someone feeling his pain. To truly understand him and feel what it would be like to walk in those downtrodden shoes he was walking in.

In my culture in the South of Spain, if people are experiencing overwhelming problems, it is the mere act of hopping onto a bus or walking through the cobbled streets in the hope of finding someone to speak to.

The first person who greets them they share their entire situation from the beginning of time. All the other person has to do is nod every so often and show understanding. By the time they have reached their destination, they feel as light as a feather.

No expensive Psychologists or Psychiatrists are needed.

It is the mere act of evacuating our thoughts onto another person that is so effective in suddenly making us feel that the load has lessened. We feel understood, acknowledged.

Sometimes this is all that is needed.

Someone has been a witness to our experience through the words we chose to tell the story. The thinking shifts, it no longer feels as overwhelming, it becomes more manageable and in that space, small insights and wisdom can push through. This often point us to what the next step might be.

Once the overwhelm of thinking has cleared like a misty sky, it is then possible to experience the beautiful starry night behind it.

It’s simple, yet truly powerful.

Self Development
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