On People

One of my favorite podcasts is called Hidden Brain, not just because I love learning about psychology, but also due to some strange sense of nostalgia and a yearning for the days my parents would drive me to school. I think Hidden Brain occupied the 8 AM slot on NPR, so I always only heard the intro, where the host Sankar Vendantam (a fellow Stanford grad who also shares a name with my dad!) introduces the topic of that day's episode, before I was promptly dropped off at the horseshoe shaped parking lot in front of my high school.

I started really listening to them more during college, when I had run out of music at the gym, or needed something to occupy my mind on a long walk. The episodes are always incredibly engaging and fascinating, and Sankar's voice feels comforting and worn. Some of my favorite topics have been about managing anger, group think, and the tenacity of romantic relationships. I highly recommend scrolling through the most recent epsiodes on Spotify or Apple Podcasts; I guarantee you'll come across something that piques your interest.

I recently listened to an episode that particularly stuck with me. It was called "The Power of Tiny Interactions" and briefly touched on a psychology concept I learned in college called "weak and strong ties." The concept itself is pretty self-explanatory: strong ties are the relationships that you have with your closest friends and family, weak ties are the less intimate and more infrequent interactions (think: barista, friend of a friend you meet once at a party etc). The context with which I learned about these ties in college was related to social media. Basically, research has showed that social media can be detrimental to mental health in the cases where users only engage with weak ties (consuming content from celebrites, influencers, people they barely know) rather than with strong ties (messaging friends and family, following a smaller, closer circle of people).

What I loved about this particular Hidden Brain episode was how it highlighted the importance of engaging with weak ties in real life. Research shows that simple interactions like waving to a neighbor across the street, striking up a conversation with a barista, or even making a comment to a stranger on the bus, are beneficial to one's mental health and can improve levels of happiness and fulfillment. Since I work from home, I've especially tried to be intentional about incorporating an interaction like this daily, whether it be the lady who works the front desk at the gym or smiling at babies when I pass them in a stroller (they are in the stroller, not me.) I've realized that even though some of them can be awkward or maybe unreciprocated, I feel happier just having done them. I can't say if it's a side effect of my extraversion or my stir-craziness from sitting at a desk, but I think it's still always worth a shot.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I actually had a pretty lofty goal of making one new friend a week. It was ambitious, and I began loosening my guidelines for what "friend" and "week" means, but I really tried to actively meet new people as much as I could. My first week in the city I actually met a girl on the N Muni line while on my way to a Warriors' Game, and we really just clicked. Even though we didn't become friends (sadly, she was just visiting from Boston) I still have her number saved, and think fondly back to our conversation. Lily from the Muni, I hope you're doing well!

It's been a year since I've moved to SF, and shocker, I don't have 52 new close friends. Instead, I have a close group of college and high school friends (some old and some new!) whom I love and see regularly. I still love meeting new people and the excitement of bonding over some shared interest or passion with a stranger, and I am confident that there are still plenty of close friends to be made in my future. I can't wait to meet them.

But for now, I'm learning to love and treasure these tiny interactions. And I hope this post will inspire you to as well!

Link to the podcast episode here.