Substantive conversations contribute to the happy life

The weather has been pretty nice lately, and that game last night was rather intense.

Small talk seems to have found a comfortable home in our everyday lives, as we eagerly try to hide from the daunting awkward silence that has left a long line of massacred conversations strewn behind it.

The weather, recent sporting events and updates in our classes or jobs are topics most of us can relate to and comment on, so we go through our lives conversing with each other about them whenever we need to fill some time.

While small talk does a great job at serving a relatively important purpose, engaging in it too much may have an adverse effect on a person’s well-being and overall happiness.

A recent study led by Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, indicates that some of the happiest people among us may be those that actively and consistently engage in deep conversations with their peers, while minimizing the number of conversations that are founded in the deep abyss of small talk.

According to “Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations,” a published report of the study, the experiment was carried out by having 79 undergraduate students wear an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) for four days. The EAR recorded 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes.

The recordings were later analyzed to determine whether the participants were alone or talking with other people, and if they were with other people, whether the conversation they were engaged in consisted of small talk or something substantive, according to the report.

According to the study, “Compared with the unhappiest participants, the happiest participants spent about 25 percent less time alone and about 70 percent more time talking. They also had roughly one third as much small talk and twice as many substantive conversations.”

While the authors of the report suggested that more research should be done on this issue, they also wrote, “The present findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial.”

So what does this mean?

If we value our happiness, it may be time we try getting off the sinking ship of triviality.

Surely there are substantive topics that people are willing to comment on, so, rather than becoming immersed in yet another conversation about the weather, we ought to attempt to make a substitution that will lead to a conversation about something that actually matters.

And if it doesn’t work out, well, “that game last night” will always be there tomorrow.

Reach Austin at acyost@asu.edu


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