The Power of a Friendly Hello

Stevie Wonder had the right idea when he just called to say, “I love you.” A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explains that a casual check-in can have a powerful effect on its recipients, much more so than people anticipate. Perhaps we think offering a quick hello to a friend is too insignificant to be worth the effort or will be awkward if we haven’t spoken to them in a while. Or that an unexpected call, text or email will be regarded as burdensome, given the receiver’s busy schedule. Not so, found researchers, who conducted 13 experiments with more than 5,900 participants. In all of these trials, participants deeply underestimated how much others would appreciate hearing from them. The most meaningful check-ins occurred between people who hadn’t touched base in a while. So this holiday season, as we work to rebuild the relationships that COVID-19 social distancing interrupted, be sure not to overlook the power of simply reaching out.

Send a short text: Not sure what to say? How about, “It’s been a while. Let’s catch up soon.” Notes such as “Just wanted to say hi” or “Sending positive vibes” also let receivers know they’re on your mind without any pressure to respond.

Email over a shared interest: Feel like you need a reason to check in? Send a link to an article or website that reminds you of the person along with a message letting them know that this particular read made you think of them.

Speak up: While you might worry that a live call will seem awkward, a 2021 Journal of Experimental Psychology: General article notes that people consistently undervalue the overall benefit of more intimate voice-based interactions. Phone calls, voice chats and video chats have also been shown to create stronger social bonds.

Embrace the occasion: The holiday season offers a prime opportunity to connect with a letter, seasonal card or small gift such as a plant or favorite treat. And if someone sends you a gift, follow up with a written thank-you. A 2018 study in Psychological Science found that this gesture of gratitude improved the well-being of both writer and recipient, with many rating their happiness at four out of five after receiving such a note.

Photograph by Fizkes