A study published in Psychological Science reveals that Jack Handey might have discovered a key to happiness with his "Deep Thoughts." Researchers at the University of Arizona recorded participants' conversations for four days and found the happiest subjects had twice as many substantive conversations (ones that get beyond the weather to touch on religion, current affairs, or the meaning of life) and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants. So should we be spending less time comparing exercise routines and more time talking about foreign policy?
These findings struck me as particularly interesting given a conversation I'd had with a friend that stuck with me. He works in an industrial park straight out of Office Space, and despite majoring in philosophy in college and being a pretty deep thinker, he prides himself on having chatty relationships with everyone at work from the receptionist to the cashiers in the cafeteria. These are conversations that skim the surface, that never get to the heart of what makes him or the person he's talking to tick. It's a way of relating to people I couldn't identify with at all.
Granted, you don't want to tell the milk man about your last bad date or start answering every casual "How are you?" with full, honest disclosure. But regularly denying personal or meaningful information to friends and co-workers seemed like a missed opportunity for understanding and connection.
Nevertheless, when this friend told me, with some great deal of authority, that there's a correlation between happiness and a volume of upbeat, superficial conversations, I didn't exactly question his research methodology. But I couldn't wait to share this research with him (and maybe say "I told you so.")
One of the researchers at the University of Arizona, Dr. Matthias Mehl, put the findings in context to the New York Times: "We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way - it could have been, 'Don't worry, be happy' - as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you're happy, and if you go into the existential depths you'll be unhappy," Dr. Mehl said.
But Bobby McFerrin's 1989 pop hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" doesn't address the fundamentals of what it means to be human: we have a deep desire to find and create meaning in our lives.
"By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world," Dr. Mehl said. "And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness."
Do you like sharing your feelings and asking people about the meaning of life? Or do you stick to small talk? Could you see yourself getting deep with the people in your life in the name of increased happiness?
More from Real-Life Makeover:
- 10 ways to slow down and savor the summer
- Would you trade your antidepressant for exercise?
18 ways to bring peace and quiet into your day
- Good news about getting older: You're happier
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