Happy to talk, deep and meaningfully

bookNew research reported in Psychological Science (February 2010) by Matthias R. Mehl and colleagues of the University of Arizona suggests not only that having conversations helps us to be happy, but that ‘deep’ conversations do this better than small talk – though as a ‘social lubricant’ chit chat has its place too. (Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations)

Mehl’s finding is that the happiest people spent 70% more time talking ‘deep and meaningfully’ than did the unhappiest.

In the study, Mehl equipped 79 college men and women for four days with a portable device which every 12.5 minutes recorded 30 seconds of sounds, whilst the wearers followed their normal routines. This produced in total more than 23,000 recordings, about 300 per participant.

Mehl’s team then classified the recordings as small talk (“Popcorn? Yummy!”) or substantive (“She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?”) and participants took tests to evaluate personality and well-being.

More ‘meaningful’ talk, less solitude
The team found that those reporting higher levels of well-being spent less time alone and more time talking to others. The happiest also spent about 25 percent less time alone (59% against 77%) and about 70 percent more time talking (40% against 23%).

The happiest were found to have about one third as much small talk as the unhappiest and twice as many substantive conversations.

Mehl also reported that having substantive conversations showed slightly stronger correlation with happiness for men than for women, although no reasons for this have been proposed as yet.

Inherent personality or socially created?
Future research will explore whether deep conversations contribute to happiness, or it’s the other way around, but one follow-up study appears to suggest the former.

“We have the first tentative pilot data showing that, indeed, asking people to engage in one extra substantive conversation a day for a period of five days made them a bit happier,” Mehl tells us.

“Profound conversations have the potential to make people happier…. what really connects you to people is substantive, meaningful conversation rather than small talk. It doesn’t have to be all about philosophy or the afterlife, it just has to have substance.”

Can we then make ourselves, and perhaps others, happier by having more, and more meaningful, conversations? How could this happen?


Posted on July 9, 2010, in Reading and Research and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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