Menu

Micro interactions increase life satisfaction—so go ahead and talk to strangers

When other people think you matter and treat you like you matter, you believe you matter, too.

Micro interactions increase life satisfaction—so go ahead and talk to strangers

My friend Jonathan Shapiro has a morning routine. Every day on his way to work, he buys a newspaper from the same street vendor, whose newsstand is by a busy subway station in New York. Though both Jonathan and the vendor have every incentive to rush through the exchange of goods for money and get on with their days, they always take a moment to have a brief conversation.


Their little exchange, as humble as it may seem, reveals a great deal about how we can each lead more meaningful lives.

As I write in my new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, many of us are so caught up in our own lives, so rushed and preoccupied, that we acknowledge the people we are interacting with only instrumentally. We fail to see them as individuals.

FEATURED VIDEO

But Jonathan and the vendor break outside of their cocoons and form a brief bond with one another. Each of them lets the other one know that he is heard, seen and appreciated—that he matters.

If you ask people what their most significant sources of meaning in life are, they, perhaps unsurprisingly, list their close relationships. But, as I researched my book, I discovered something that did surprise me: our loose ties to others can be potent sources of meaning, too. That’s because one of the pillars of a meaningful life is a sense of belonging—which you can cultivate with your partner, children, and closest friends, of course—but also with your newspaper vendor, local barista, and even a stranger on the street.

These micro-connections are sources of meaning we can all tap into to lead deeper and richer lives.

When people feel like they belong, according to psychologists Mark Leary and Roy Baumeister, it’s because two conditions have been satisfied. First, they are in relationships with others based on mutual care: each person feels valued by the other.

When other people think you matter and treat you like you matter, you believe you matter, too—like Jonathan and the vendor.

Second, they have frequent pleasant interactions with other people. Those moments can be joyful and fun, like when a parent and child play, or more emotionally neutral, like when a content couple holds hands while watching television together. But the key is that they happen on a regular basis and are not negative—again, like Jonathan and the vendor.

Belonging isn’t a fixed trait of relationships; we can each build belonging with another person by doing certain things. One excellent way is to make sure we’re responding to one another’s bids, as the psychologist John Gottman calls them. In relationships, people are constantly making bids for affection. For example, let’s say a couple is sitting at the breakfast table and the wife comments on an interesting headline in the newspaper. At this moment, she is making a bid for her husband’s attention and hoping that her husband responds by acknowledging her warmly.

Her husband now has a choice. He can either ignore her bid or barely acknowledge it. Or he could affirm her bid by saying something like, “How interesting—tell me more.” And this would create a moment of belonging that both of them could share.

But if small moments can kindle belonging, they can also destroy it.

For example, one day, when my friend Jonathan went to buy the paper, he realized he had only big bills. The vendor could not make change for Jonathan, so he smiled widely and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll pay tomorrow.” The vendor was making a bid to take their relationship to a higher level of trust and intimacy. But Jonathan tensed up and shook his head. He insisted on paying for the paper, so he went into a store and bought something he did not need so he could make change. He handed the vendor a dollar and said, “Here you go, to be sure I don’t forget.”

In that instant, the dynamic of their relationship changed. The vendor reluctantly took Jonathan’s money and drew back in sadness. “I did the wrong thing,” Jonathan later said. “I didn’t accept his kindness. He wanted to do something meaningful, but I treated it as a transaction.”

The vendor isn’t the only person, of course, who has felt cut down by rejection. Psychologists have found that social rejection can make both the rejected and the rejecter feel alienated and insignificant. As Jonathan learned on a crowded street corner, the smallest moment of rejection can knock the meaning out of a connection as easily as the smallest moment of belonging can build it up.

After Jonathan dismissed the vendor’s bid for mutual trust, both of them left each other that morning feeling diminished.

Fortunately, the two men were able to restore their relationship. The next time Jonathan saw the vendor, he brought him a cup of tea. And the next time the vendor offered Jonathan a newspaper, Jonathan thanked him and humbly accepted his gesture of kindness. They continue to share a quick conversation each day.

We can’t control whether someone will respond to our bids, but we can all choose to reciprocate one.

We can decide to respond kindly, rather than antagonistically, to one another. We can choose to value people rather than devalue them. We can invite people to belong. And when we do, not only will our own lives feel more meaningful—but our relationships will be better, too.

Original story by Emily Esfahani Smith for The Gottman Institute.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

Keep reading Show less
Shop
International Network for Aid, Relief and Assistance (INARA)

It's 2020. The world is changing. It's hard to believe but the old decade is over, the new one is here and it is bringing a lot of new life with it. The babies born this year are members of Generation Alpha and the world is waiting for them.

We're only a few months into the new year and there are already some new celebrity arrivals making headlines while making their new parents proud.

If your little one arrived (or is due to arrive) in 2020, they've got plenty of high profile company.

Here are all the celebrity babies born in 2020 (so far):

Keep reading Show less
News