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Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations

Date:
March 5, 2010
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Is a happy life filled with trivial chatter or reflective and profound conversations? In a new study, the happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants. In addition, the happiest participants spent 25 percent less time alone and 70 percent more time talking than the unhappiest participants, suggesting that the happy life is social and conversationally deep rather than solitary and superficial.

Is a happy life filled with trivial chatter or reflective and profound conversations? Psychological scientists Matthias R. Mehl, Shannon E. Holleran, and C. Shelby Clark from the University of Arizona, along with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis investigated whether happy and unhappy people differ in the types of conversations they tend to engage in.

Volunteers wore an unobtrusive recording device called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) over four days. This device periodically records snippets of sounds as participants go about their lives. For this experiment, the EAR sampled 30 seconds of sounds every 12.5 minutes yielding a total of more than 20,000 recordings. Researchers then listened to the recordings and identified the conversations as trivial small talk or substantive discussions. In addition, the volunteers completed personality and well-being assessments.

As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, analysis of the recordings revealed some very interesting findings. Greater well-being was related to spending less time alone and more time talking to others: The happiest participants spent 25% less time alone and 70% more time talking than the unhappiest participants. In addition to the difference in the amount of social interactions happy and unhappy people had, there was also a difference in the types of conversations they took part in: The happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants.

These findings suggest that the happy life is social and conversationally deep rather than solitary and superficial. The researchers surmise that -- though the current findings cannot identify the causal direction -- deep conversations may have the potential to make people happier. They note, "Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in the interaction partners."


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The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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Association for Psychological Science. "Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304165902.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2010, March 5). Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304165902.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304165902.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

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