It's said that "the best things in life are free" -- but, is it true?
As we know, many days just fly by in a blur as we move from task to task - perhaps grabbing a quick coffee on the run - as we give a friend or neighbor a quick hello before whizzing on to the next task. Do this. Don't forget that. Call so-and-so. Did I answer his email?
Rush. Rush. Rush. Go. Go. Go. Do. Do. Do
Dinner time conversation often includes a litany of things we did -- or didn't -- achieve that day. Did you pick up the dry cleaning? What about the oil change? The cycle of the never ending 'to do list' re-emerges day after day. Then, as the day draws to a close we look back in review and conclude that 'we really didn't accomplish that much'. Oh irony!
Who would ever declare themselves 'happier' as a result of being stuck in rush hour traffic, running errands, meeting deadlines, answering emails and just catching a quick glimpse and exchanging small talk with those nearest and dearest?
What is it that really which brings happiness, meaning and satisfaction to our lives?
Curiously, a 'happiness' study reveals that those who spend more time engaged in substantive conversation report greater happiness than those who spend more of their time conversing superficially.
According to the study Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations, those who report the greatest level of happiness not only lead lives which are more social than solitary but also engage in face-to-face communications which are "conversationally deep rather than superficial."
Researcher and psychologist Mathias Mehl of University of Arizona reports:
"...the happiest [people]....[have] twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — 45.9 percent of the day’s conversations — were substantive, while only 21.8 percent of the unhappiest person’s conversations were substantive. Small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person’s conversations, while it made up almost three times as much –- or 28.3 percent –- of the unhappiest person’s conversations."
The happiest subjects spent 70 percent more time talking than the unhappiest subjects, which suggests that “the mere time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happines.
What do you think your 'small-talk to deep-conversation ratio' might be? When was the last time you were part of a conversation that you experienced as captivating, engaging and inspiring? How often do you feel connected with another through deep conversation?
'Deep, Meaningful and Substantive'
A substantive conversation is an engaging multi-faceted conversation in which meaningful dialogue occurs (e.g., “She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after? What was that like for you?”) rather than simplistic, surface niceties or matter-of-fact-logistical talk such as "What time will you arrive?" or "I will pick up milk after work."
This more intense style of communication is not attached to any type of pre-determined outcome. It possesses no other expectation other than to simply be experienced as enjoyable, enriching and satisfying. The effect of a passionate, engaging conversation can include greater understanding and appreciation of a topic and result in the development of a closer bond among those conversing.
Using technology to communicate -- such as talking on the phone, emailing, texting or the use of social media -- does not qualify for the type of deep conversation that increases happiness and deepens meaning.
When it comes to happiness-increasing conversationsms, the topic, discussed is insignificant.
The critical element is that the conversation goes deeper, entices and engages. It is likely to leave the conversationalists satisfied in much the same way that a good film, book, song, performance or piece of art can be moving or uplifting. It touches that deep and very human place within us.
Just as self-disclosure instills a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations can instill a sense of shared meaning. The shared meaning strengthens social and personal bonds resulting in greater happiness and relationship satisfaction.
Treat Yourself to a Happiness-Inducing Deep Conversation
Sometimes deep conversations just appear out of the blue without planning and they can be surprisingly delightful! But if you wish to be purposeful about adding deeper emotional and intellectual interpersonal engagement into your life, choose a chatty broad-minded person whose company you enjoy and whose opinions and values you respect and admire. It can be a spouse, friend, colleague, neighbor or family member.
Set aside at least an hour of uninterrupted, unhurried time in a relaxed environment.
You can either have a set agenda and bring up a topic which interests you -- or, you can just enjoy the twists and turns that emerge!
Your conversation may lead to something more or inspire some sort of action -- but it doesn't have to. Conversing with another and the joy it brings is meaningful enough. This is not about 'doing' but rather it's about 'experiencing'.
The Greek philosopher Socrates famously claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” to which the 20th-century American philosopher Daniel Dennett replied: “The overly examined life is nothing to write home about either.” Somewhere between Socrates and Dennett herein lies this truth: life is more meaningful when it is explored (deeply) with another.
 Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations. Sage Journal, Psychological Science, 2009 http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/02/17/0956797610362675.full
 Talk Deeply, Be Happy? by Roni Carin Rabin March 17, 2010 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/talk-deeply-be-happy/
 Skip the Small Talk: Meaningful Conversations Linked to Happier People. Scientific America, October 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=skip-the-small-talk
 The Perils of Small Talk by Wray Herbert, APA March 2010 http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/full-frontal-psychology/the-perils-of-small-talk.html