Saying Hello to Your Neighbors is Linked to Higher Well-Being, But With Limits
By Kayley Bayne and Dan Witters
Adults in the U.S. who regularly say hello to multiple people in their neighborhood have higher well-being than those who greet fewer or no neighbors. Americans’ well-being score increases steadily by the number of neighbors greeted, from 51.5 among those saying hello to zero neighbors to 64.1 for those greeting six neighbors. No meaningful increase in well-being is seen for additional neighbors greeted beyond six.Adults in the U.S. who regularly say hello to multiple people in their neighborhood have higher well-being than those who greet fewer or no neighbors. Click To Tweet
These results were collected as part of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index. The index is calculated on a scale of zero to 100, where zero represents the lowest possible well-being and 100 represents the highest possible well-being. The Well-Being Index score for the nation comprises metrics affecting overall well-being and each of the five essential elements of well-being:
- Career well-being: You like what you do every day.
- Social well-being: You have meaningful friendships in your life.
- Financial well-being: You manage your money well.
- Physical well-being: You have energy to get things done.
- Community well-being: You like where you live.
These findings, from a poll conducted May 30-June 6, 2023, are based on 4,556 U.S. adults surveyed by web as part of the Gallup Panel, a probability-based panel of about 100,000 adults across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
All Five Elements of Well-being Correspond With Greeting Neighbors
Not only is a person’s overall Well-Being Index score closely related to the number of neighbors they regularly greet, but the pattern is also seen across all five elements of the index. As with the Well-Being Index itself, social, community, career and physical well-being peak at greeting six neighbors, while financial well-being hits its numeric high point at 11 to 15 such interactions.
Apart from where they peak, financial and community well-being — followed by social — are most closely associated with saying hello to neighbors, with the largest gaps in scoring between greeting zero people and greeting six.
Greeting Neighbors More Common Among Older, Higher-Income Adults
Americans report saying hello on a regular basis to five neighbors, on average, with 27% reporting greeting six or more. This varies substantially by age, however. Young adults (those under 30) say hello to an average of 2.9 neighbors, compared with 6.5 among those aged 65 or older. About one in seven among those under 30 (14%) greet six or more neighbors, compared with 41% of those aged 65 and older.
Having children under 18 in the household marginally improves the chances of greeting neighbors, as does having an annual household income of $120,000 or more.
In addition to the correlation between greeting neighbors and personal well-being, this study finds a strong connection between Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index and neighborly relations.
The chance of being categorized as “thriving” in Gallup’s overall life ratings increases from just 38.1% among those who regularly say hello to zero people in their neighborhood to 60.5% among those who say hello to five. At this point, however, no further gains are found among those who greet greater numbers of people.The chance of being categorized as “thriving” in Gallup’s overall life ratings increases from just 38.1% among those who regularly say hello to zero people in their neighborhood to 60.5% among those who say hello to five. Click To Tweet
For its Life Evaluation Index, Gallup classifies Americans as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering” according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from zero to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving. Just over half (51.2%) are thriving, based on the most recent Gallup estimates.
Social well-being, to which greeting neighbors is certainly related, has been linked to faster healing, reduced stress, and better engagement at work. Recent Gallup research in partnership with Meta has shown that the U.S. compares favorably with other nations around the world in social interactions, with those in the U.S. more likely than those in countries such as Mexico, India, and France to interact with the people who live near them.
Social interactions also do not necessarily yield the same well-being outcomes for all people. For example, prior Gallup research has shown that older adults receive a boost in their mood with less social time than what is found among young adults, reaching a near-optimal point at just three hours of social time with friends or family per day, compared with seven hours for those younger than 30. As we age, social interactions typically become more limited, but with those opportunities tending to yield bigger boosts of happiness and enjoyment, it may help to explain why those 65 and older are investing in neighborly relationships at higher rates than younger adults. Urbanicity may also play a role, with younger adults increasingly likely to live in urban areas and older adults more likely to live in rural areas or small to medium-sized towns, thus increasing the chances of having neighbors to greet.
The similarity between the optimal number of greetings for general life ratings and the more granular five elements of well-being provide good internal validation of the natural cutoff for the number of neighbors routinely greeted. Among the elements, it may be expected that neighborly interactions foster stronger social and community well-being in people’s lives. But notably, greeting neighbors is also linked to career well-being (liking what you do each day), physical well-being (having energy to get things done), and financial well-being (managing your money well). The associations found among these latter three elements are likely more multifaceted in nature and could be reinforced in part through the correlations found with social and community well-being.
Other related external factors could also be involved. For example, the links to financial well-being — which peaks at a greater number of neighbors than the other four elements — may be supported with higher levels of safety in the community, thus increasing the chances of openly greeting neighbors. And those with better physical well-being have the energy to move about their neighborhood, increasing the chances of greeting neighbors. Future research on the topic would shed more light on these underlying connections and the strength of the directionality between being neighborly and well-being outcomes.
At a minimum, knowing how many neighbors someone greets on a routine basis appears to be a useful marker of their personal well-being.