When I met my husband, one of the first things I fell in love with was his tendency to chat up cab drivers. Though I already knew he was a social creature, it impressed me that he could easily forge a connection with a complete stranger, too. By the time we left the taxi, we’d be deep in a conversation about Cuba, politics, or the ways in which our city was changing. It turns out that nurturing such low-stakes relationships—what sociologists refer to as “weak ties”—can be beneficial to your well-being.

Sociologist Mark Granovetter at Stanford has done research on this phenomena and has shown that connecting with these folks—say the barista at your favorite coffee shop, the bank teller, a person in your yoga class—can make you feel more connected. Additional research has shown that so-called weak ties can help you find recommendations, make you happier, and increase your sense of belonging.

Here, a few tips on how to nurture these casual connections.

1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone 

If you’re reluctant to start a conversation with a stranger, you’re not alone. Start small—even having a short chat with your barista can brighten your mood. Dr. Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Essex in England, conducted a study where she told one set of people to be super-efficient when they went in for their morning coffee and another set to interact with the barista. The people who had a chat with the barista reported being in a better mood and feeling more connected to people. Even non-verbal gestures like smiling at someone or making eye contact can lead to positive feelings. Sandstrom, who runs “How to Talk to Strangers” workshops, suggests starting with a compliment or using your observational skills and curiosity to ask a question. “I’ve asked people why they were wearing airplane earrings, where they were traveling to, what books they were reading,” writes Sandstrom on a recent blog post.

2. Be Open

Next time you ride the subway or bus, take your headphones off and put down your smartphone. These devices signal to everyone around you that you’re not open to connecting with anything but the internet. (And maybe that’s intentional.) If you’re enjoying a quiet moment sans devices, the woman standing next to you at the bus stop is more likely to ask you where you got your cute boots or what you thought of the lecture you both attended. This may require an attitude shift (don’t be nervous; be brave!), but it may also result in a meaningful conversation that will brighten your day—and someone else’s.

3. Cultivate “Weak Ties” on Social Media

Often, on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, your acquaintances—not your BFFs—are the ones who give you the best tips on everything from pillows to plumbers to job referrals. Don’t discount these peoples’ importance in your life. Your “weak online ties” may be able to help you in larger ways, too. When Lee Davenport, 47, moved to Portland last May, she needed a place to stay for a month before her apartment was ready. “So I reached out to people I knew from Instagram and was like, ‘Hi, I live in your city now,’” says Davenport, who is a health coach, and ended up staying with these friends for the entire month. Some people have also forged friendships via community-based sites like Buy Nothing or Next Door. “There’s so much stuff out there about how evil social media is, but I think it’s a gift and a tool if we use it right,” says Davenport.

4. Revive Dormant Relationships

Maybe you haven’t connected with your college chum in a few years, or you’ve stopped having lunch with that soccer mom you hung out with when your kids were on the team together. Pick up the phone and see if she or he wants to meet for coffee or lunch. If the acquaintance lives across the country, make a Skype date to reconnect. You’ll benefit from having the kind of casual friendship where you talk every few months, but if your goal is to deepen the friendship, be intentional about that.

5. Play Talking2Strangers

Sandstrom and her colleagues Erica Boothby and Gus Cooney recently conducted a study where they asked participants to talk to one new person every day for a week. They did this by making the experience fun—turning it into a downloadable scavenger hunt. At the end of the week, many participants admitted that talking to strangers was easier than they thought. “I can honestly say I’m not nearly as shy as I thought!” wrote one participant. You can download the game, Talking2Strangers, via the GooseChase app on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

“Every day we have opportunities to transform potentially impersonal, instrumental exchanges into genuine social interactions,” wrote Sandstrom in her “Is Efficiency Overrated?” study. “The happiness literature suggests that we may reap benefits by doing so; in other words, treating a service provider like we would an acquaintance might make us happier.”