Deep Discussion Brings Happiness

Are you tired of the weather being the main focus of a majority of your conversations?  Sure, the fresh spring air that has newly arrived in many areas is worthy of discussion, but many people will continue to carry on these weather-filled conversations long past spring.  In fact, I know some people that seem to talk about the weather 12 months of the year, as if it’s their favorite topic.  And I’m not just talking about meteorologists.  More than a few people insist on having the same weather-based conversations multiple times per day.  Uncomfortable or awkward encounter with someone- let’s mention the weather.  Awkward silence- let’s fill it with small-talk about the weather.  Simply avoiding a long conversation- let’s talk about the weather…I mean there’s only so much one can say about the weather!

I’m not trying to be pessimistic about the weather because personally, I love to appreciate beautiful days and even embrace the occasional rainy day.  But sometimes these endless weather conversations just get down-right boring.

There are so many other areas of life to pursuit, and bouncing ideas off our companions is often one of the greatest forms of such exploration.  The key is finding the confidence to speak of what’s really on your mind or share your opinions on issues that go beyond simple, limited answers.

If you’re one of those persistent weather-talkers, you might just want to start taking a new approach to your daily chitchats, at least every now and then.  A study published in the journal Psychological Science, consisting of 32 male and 47 female college students, found that people who spend more time engaged in deep discussions and less engaging in meaningless chitchat seem to be happier.

The students were asked to wear an electronically activated recorder containing a microphone that would be used to record 30-second excerpts from the students’ conversations every 12.5 minutes over a period of four days.  Researchers then sorted through the conversations, labeling the 30-second clips as either small talk or substantive talk.  Small talk consisted of conversations about areas such as the weather or TV, while substantive talk included topics such as philosophy, religion, current affairs, or other topics worthy of analyzing and debating.  (Some topics of conversation lied somewhere in the middle and were unable to be classified.)

Then people’s happiness levels were measured by assessing the students’ self-reports about satisfaction with their lives and by interviewing people who personally knew the subject.

Of the happiest students’ conversations, small talk made up a mere 10%, while substantive conversations made up almost half of their conversations (45.9%).  Small talk made up almost three times as much of the unhappiest students’ conversations (28.3%), with a substantive conversation percentage that weighed in at even less than that (21.8%).

I think that Matthias Mehl, the psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject, hit spot on the reasons as to why the results came out how they did.  According to the New York Times, Mehl proposed that substantive conversation brings happiness because of two main reasons:  human beings are compelled to find meaning in their lives and because we have a need to connect with others, which I would argue is a need to connect with others on more than just a shallow level.

If you are like me, conversations over nebulous topics with often unanswerable conclusions are the one’s that will almost never get old.  How cool is it to discuss the unexplored territory of space, or the future of our Earth, or the purpose of life?  There are so many different paths and approaches in answering these questions that the topics seem to never wear out.  These are the kinds of topics that lift my energy levels and perk my spirits…even if the answers aren’t always so optimistic.  The problem is finding enough people who are comfortable and willing to explore these insoluble, hazy, open-ended, often contentious topics.  Maybe if more people stepped out on the branch and quit replaying the story of the weather over and over again we’d see more smiling faces on the street.  Who knows?

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  • Reply
    Simply Life
    March 25, 2010 at 6:50 am

    oh this is fascinating and makes sense!

  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    March 25, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I read about this on the New York Times. I think one of the biggest problems is that people don’t take the time to have real discussions. It’s hard to talk about the meaning of life in 5 minutes, which is really the time we take to chitchat with someone. I think it just goes to show you how important it is to set aside time for real discussions.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Introversion/Extroversion factors into this as well. Introverts have a limit to how much human interaction they can take before needing time alone, so you can imagine how well small talk goes over. A funny site on the topic:

  • Reply
    March 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Oh so true. I hope too that college students are actually engaging in these deep meaningful conversations. I am really glad my hubby and I get into some good conversations about things, even math and science while at the dinner table.

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    March 25, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I actually saw this article a while back, and found it interesting. I think it’s true. I am so sick of the typical conversations…”hey! What’s up? how was your day? How are things? ” and so on and so on. Yeah, they are important for socializing purposes, but with family and friends I prefer a real deep conversation that gets us both thinking, and maybe even a nice argument 🙂 Friendly argument of course! Nick and I have a lot of those types of conversations. I hate it when they turn into politics though, yuck.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2010 at 10:10 am

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  • Reply
    March 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Really great post! I love this sort of thing….It’s the first time I’ve read something on this topic, and I definitely makes you stop and think. (I personally hate small talk and I definitely get bored when people start talking about the weather!) Thanks for sharing….

  • Reply
    March 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I agree! I feel like I don’t talk enough to my husband sometimes! We get in the rut of life and fail to ask about one anothers day and care to listen. That sounds bad, but it’s true at times! When we do things together…traveling, hiking, running, snuggling, we always have the best conversation. Making time for talk is really important to me (and him) and so when we’ve got “us time” we try to take advantage…and I always feel soooo good afterwards. Deep conversation with someone you can be completely open with is so liberating. Maybe this is why so many people go to counselors!?

  • Reply
    marla {Family Fresh Cooking}
    March 26, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    I can’t believe you posted such a stimulating topic (then again you always do!) I go nutso when people obsess about the weather. I embrace each day…I love all types of weather. I find that people in my parents generation talk wayyy too much about this boring topic. My dad starts every conversation with the weather and keeps going on and on about it. Doesn’t matter what season or what the weather….on and on. great post…agreed, let’s move beyond the weather!

  • Reply
    Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    March 27, 2010 at 3:31 am

    “conversations over nebulous topics with often unanswerable conclusions are the one’s that will almost never get old.”–

    What an awesome post and thanks for your supportive comment re my bikini comp musings. You’re right a little out of left field, but that’s kinda my middle name 🙂

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