I recently watched an interview about the effect on “community” and connecting with strangers in our worlds. Turns out even back before the society as we knew it shut down temporarily, moments of connection with fellow humans in our daily life actually boosts our moods and feeling of happiness. In a world of headphones and staring at smartphones it’s hard to imagine that anyone really likes small talk, but these moments of “hey the sun’s out today!” makes us feel (even for a fleeting moment) like we belong. Now, as a content, lifelong “midwesterner” (or let’s double-down) as a “Hoosier Hospitality Lifer,” I have always experienced a social norm of smiling at each person I pass by on the street or in the store. It is VERY socially common in Indy to “hi there” to each stranger we encounter. It’s such a norm that it rarely registers on my mind…that is…until COVID19 essentially changed most parts of our social lives. I currently am still homebound 95% of my time.

I take a weekly trek to Meijer for supplies (and a break from watching Minecraft Youtubers with my 10 and 8 year olds.) Now that I appear to others as a masked crusader, my squinty eye-smile and muffled “hehh” under my mask has zero social effect, and visa versa. Our faces are covered and voices muzzled…literally! It has just dawned on me week after week that missing this minor social interaction, even connection, with strangers is yet another jolt to my mood. I leave the store feeling stressed, tired, and now I’m realizing, lonely. Loneliness is a feeling that has a strong correlation to depression. Not to over-dramatize the point, but as we all battle our low moods in 2020, loneliness is not a feeling that helps us.

I challenge all of us to add one item to our social checklist. Keep your distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, and give as many squinty eye-smiles combined with a little-too-loud Hoosier “HEY THERE!” to your masked counterparts. It can go along way for all of us!

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