Speaking to our neighbours officially makes us happier, a study has revealed. Research carried out among 2,000 adults found that despite small talk with neighbours not coming naturally for almost half, two-thirds admitted it makes them feel happier.
Seven in ten also claim that a simple conversation with a neighbour makes them feel more in touch with the rest of their community.
The study also found that others see small talk as a way of ‘brightening someone’s day’, and even as a lifeline for those who live alone.
Sir Tim Smit KBE, Founding Director, Eden Project and co-Founder The Big Lunch, which commissioned the research said:
“The significance of small talk shouldn’t be underestimated. It might seem trivial but it can have a powerful impact on people.
“Small talk might not always come easily and can be awkward to initiate, but taking the time to start conversation can lead to big things.
“Many of us take it for granted that we have jobs, friends and families – all of which act as opportunities for social interaction.
“Not everyone is as fortunate. Spare a thought for the elderly, infirm, those who are unemployed – for many, their only chance to talk to someone will be with their neighbours.”
The study found that six in ten Brits make small talk with their neighbours, with 52% even going out of their way to start a conversation.
And although one in five said they don’t feel comfortable making small talk with their neighbours, 21% are flattered by the interest when a neighbour makes the effort to chat to them.
More than a quarter said it makes them feel that they matter and are less invisible, while for more than one in twenty, talking with a neighbour is one of the highlights of their day.
The simple act of talking to a neighbour is also seen by 34% as a way to ‘brighten someone’s day’, while three in ten consider it a ‘lifeline’ for those who live alone.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, small talk is easier for the older generation with 72% of over 55s saying it comes naturally compared to just 35% of those under 35.
One in five of those under 25 admitted they don’t talk at all with their neighbours.
It also emerged that more than half of all Brits have got at least one neighbour they have never said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to.
And one in twenty say they have never engaged in small talk with a neighbour, while another one in twenty admits it’s been years.
Not knowing what to say was the biggest reason for not having a chat for 36% of people, with shyness and a lack of time also blamed.
But more than four in ten wish they had a better relationship with the people living around them, while only one in ten are firm friends with the person living next door.
Researchers also found that weather is the most popular subject when starting a conversation, followed by holidays and enquiring about a person’s well-being.
Children, local events or the opportunity to gossip are also among the go-to themes when making small talk.
Sir Tim Smit KBE, of The Big Lunch, added:
“Small talk is in fact ‘big talk’ – it’s the code or tool which enables us to overcome our shyness.
“This is where The Big Lunch comes in – it’s the ice-breaker that is needed to convert strangers into possible friends or acquaintances.
“Feedback from previous years has shown that almost everyone who takes part in a Big Lunch feels closer to their neighbours as a result with two thirds going on to hold other events in their community afterwards, proving it is not just about one day it’s about what happens before and after the event.
“At one end of the spectrum, making connections with our neighbours can help alleviate loneliness and social isolation and create happier and safer communities.
“But it can also have practical implications such as having someone you trust to feed your pets or collect your post when you are away from home.”
Clinical Psychologist Tanya Byron added:
“It is very easy to trivialise ‘small talk’ as tedious and time wasting, but in fact taking the time to have meaningful but minimal interactions is very important.
“These are the conversations that have meaning and benefit our immediate community and wider society.
“They are free, take no time and are impactful. These moments are humanising and are an important acknowledgement of the individual.
“In taking the trouble to talk to your neighbour you may also be helping to reduce their sense of loneliness.”
The Big Lunch – made possible by the Big Lottery Fund – is expecting millions of people to take part on Sunday 1 June 2014. For more information about holding a Big Lunch, request a free pack online at www.thebiglunch.com. Packs contain invitations and posters to adapt for your community, as well as seeds, a bunting template and an inspiration booklet with lots of ideas and info to help get you started.
TOP TEN SMALL TALK SUBJECTS
- Enquiring about well-being
- Your/their children
- Local events happening in the community
- Gossip or news about another neighbour
- National news/current affairs
- Crime levels in the area