November 21, 2014

World Hello Day: The Power of a Greeting

Take time out of your day to say hello to someone new. The Community Social Work Team discusses how this can battle loneliness and have a positive impact on the social well-being of our campus community.

November 21st is World Hello Day, a day we encourage you say hello to your friends and neighbours but also to those you do not know. We are challenging you to say hello to ten people you never met or have been too shy to talk to before, because saying a simple hi can make the biggest difference.

Of all the days to recognize on campus, World Hello Day may seem like a strange choice. However, there is much more behind World Hello Day than just the encouragement of a friendly greeting. World Hello Day was started in response to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The intention was to use personal greetings and inter-personal communication as a way to create dialogue and preserve peace. World Hello Day is a global expression of peace and people in 180 countries observe it. By greeting ten people today, you are expressing your support for peace and the power of dialogue as a means of resolving and preventing conflict.

In addition to showing support for the stated goal of World Hello Day, saying hello to those around you can have some positive impacts on the social health of our university campus. As humans we receive many important benefits from our social interactions, from a sense of comfort and belonging to improved physical and mental health. Social relationships help to satisfy our intrinsic need for affiliation and belonging and are essential for our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Conversely, the absence of social relationships can lead to social isolation and loneliness, both of which have been identified as health-related risk factors.

In a recent report, social isolation and loneliness were identified as being significant issues experienced by many students at the U of A. Being surrounded by people does not necessarily mean that we feel connected or that we are engaging with others. As a result, we can find ourselves alone and isolated in the midst of a crowded campus. 

If we know that social interaction is something we all need, why does loneliness happen? While our years at university may be full of new experiences and opportunities, our time here can also be a period of stress, mental challenge, and intense focus. The time we spend on campus can be keenly focused on the tasks and challenges at hand like working on an assignment or studying for an exam. In tuning out distraction so that we can focus, we may also be tuning out to the world around us. And while we may not mean to, we can collectively create an environment where we are surrounded by thousands of people and yet there is little or no real social connection or acknowledgement. 

Recent studies have shown that people feel happier when they have more social interactions throughout the day. Interestingly, these studies revealed that it was not just close social relationships that made people happier; interactions with strangers or weaker ties also had the same positive effect. 

So, as we quickly walk through the busy corridors and impersonal in-between spaces on our campus, let’s try to make them personal by embracing the challenge of World Hello Day and sharing a greeting with those around us. It may be as simple as saying hello to the person you are sitting beside in class or a fellow student we are passing in the hallway.  The effect could be contagious and could enhance the happiness and sense of belonging that we all feel. 

The hope to create a campus where all individuals feel welcome and accepted. Doing this begins with saying hello to those around us. Perhaps this is something that we could all consider doing on a daily basis, with November 21st providing the catalyst to be intentional with the social opportunities we have each day.

For more information and resources on connecting with your campus community, visit www.community.ualberta.ca.