This Type of Conversation Makes You Happier

All personality types benefit from this type of conversation.

All personality types benefit from this type of conversation.

Having more meaningful or ‘deep’ conversations makes people happier, research finds.

Whether extravert or introvert, people who exchanged more meaningful information about relationships, politics or whatever, were happier.

At the other end of the scale, trivial chat or ‘small talk’ had no link to happiness, one way or the other.

Professor Matthias Mehl, who led the study, said:

“We do not think anymore that there is an inherent tension between having small talk and having substantive conversations.

Small didn’t positively contribute to happiness, and it didn’t negatively contribute to it.

With this study, we wanted to find out whether it is primarily the quantity or the quality of our social encounters that matter for one’s well-being.”

For the study, small recording devices were used to capture snippets of everyday conversation from 486 volunteers.

Professor Mehl explained the difference between small talk and a substantive conversation in their study:

“We define small talk as a conversation where the two conversation partners walk away still knowing equally as much — or little — about each other and nothing else.

In substantive conversation, there is real, meaningful information exchanged.

Importantly, it could be about any topic — politics, relationships, the weather — it just needs to be at a more than trivial level of depth.”

Personality had no effect on how much of a happiness boost people got from deep conversations, Professor Mehl said:

“We expected that personality might make a difference, for example that extroverts might benefit more from social interactions than introverts or that substantive conversations might be more closely linked to well-being for introverts than for extroverts, and were very surprised that this does not seem to be the case.”

Although small talk was not linked to happiness, it is still necessary, said Professor Mehl:

“I think of it like this: In every pill, there’s an inactive ingredient, and it’s a nice metaphor, because you cannot have the pill without the inactive ingredient.

We all understand that small talk is a necessary component to our social lives.

You cannot usually walk up to a stranger and jump right into a deep, existential conversation because of social norms.”

Perhaps, says Professor Mehl, people could be prescribed a deep conversation as a treatment:

“I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations and see whether that does something to their happiness.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Milek et al., 2018).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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