Struggling to fit in? Strong support from weak ties can help - Hindustan Times
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Struggling to fit in? Strong support from weak ties can help

ByAnesha George
Aug 04, 2023 08:32 PM IST

Casual interactions can help boost happiness and sense of belonging, says researcher Gillian Sandstrom. See how she expanded her own social circle.

If you haven’t made a new friend in a while, and would like to, Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, recommends starting small.

The vaguely familiar faces you interact with often could have a direct impact on your well-being. It could be someone at the gym, a bus driver on the daily commute, a friendly security guard. (Pixabay) PREMIUM
The vaguely familiar faces you interact with often could have a direct impact on your well-being. It could be someone at the gym, a bus driver on the daily commute, a friendly security guard. (Pixabay)

Having applied for a Master’s degree in psychology in Toronto, after working as a computer scientist for 10 years, Sandstrom found herself the oldest in her class, in 2007, and had trouble fitting in.

She often passed a hotdog stand on the way to her classes and, without much thought, began exchanging smiles or a quick wave with the woman who ran the business. “On days when she wasn’t there, things just didn’t feel quite right. These small interactions had started making me feel like I belonged on campus,” Sandstrom says.

This sparked her curiosity and she began to research what are called weak social ties. In her life, there was the hotdog stand woman, and Barry who worked at a pet store and remembered her cat’s name. For others, it could be someone at the gym, a bus driver on the daily commute, a friendly security guard.

“These interactions are spontaneous,” she says. They demand little of us. They are reciprocal. They make us feel seen. We all felt the absence of them in the pandemic; the lockdowns hurt these weak-tie relationships, and we suffered because of it.

In a 2014 paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Sandstrom explained how people with larger weak-tie networks report greater levels of happiness and belonging than people with smaller ones.

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