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Purposeful Talks, Interactive Relationships Make People Cheerful


Researchers from the University of Arizona have found that people feel happier when they indulged more in meaningful conversations, than in “small talk”. In addition, more cheerful people do not spend their time alone, but with others in interactive relationships.

Researchers Matthias R. Mehl, Shannon E. Holleran, and C Shelby Clark from U of A and Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis investigated the different types of conversations among those who were happy and those who were unhappy. The 79 participants, college-aged men and women, were asked to wear an inconspicuous recording device for four days. The electronically activated recorder periodically taped 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes.

The team listened to the recordings and classified each conversation as either “small talk” or “substantive conversation”. Participants then took a test to evaluate personality and well-being.

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Those who reported higher levels of well-being spent less time alone and more time talking with others. The happiest also had about one-third as much small talk and twice as many substantive conversations than those who were unhappiest. Men engaged in slightly more meaningful conversations than women, contrary to the belief that women are more likely to discuss their deeper feelings.

The study doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Happy people may be “social attractors” according to Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology. “Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in interaction with partners.”

According to Sonja Lyubormirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and happiness researcher/author, “There’s lots of research showing that happiness is linked with greater social support. Happier people spend more time with others. Substantive conversations would be a marker that they are talking to closer friends.” She was not involved in the study.

The research will be published in the journal Psychological Science.



Small talk Gets a Bum Rap While I agree with the University of Arizona researchers who performed the study that ‘the happy life is social and conversationally deep rather than solitary and superficial,’ I disagree with the conclusions that small talk leaves people unhappy. Rather, it is the inability to connect with others that leaves people unhappy and socially isolated. Based on nearly 30 years of teaching and writing on the subject of small talk and conversation, I maintain that small talk is an important communication skill to bridge the gap between strangers and is a prerequisite for more substantive conversations. In addition, small talk serves at least three critical roles to create meaningful conversations and relationships: 1. It shows we are willing to communicate and demonstrates our conversation styles. 2. It allows for an informal exchange of basic information that includes experiences, values, attitudes and common interests. 3. It encourages rapport and trust, two prerequisites for deeper conversations. Don Gabor is a communications trainer and author of How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends. He can be reached for further comments on this subject at 718-768-0824, via email at [email protected] or visit his website, www.dongabor.com
Don, with all due respect small talk is not connecting, small talk has its place, & many engage in it, but for those of us who like meaningful interactions its boring BS. A deep profound exchange can happen between strangers. I grew up in a small town where the most people just wait their turn to say something nice (small talk). If the subject of weather comes up its fun to talk about "The Little Ice Age" unknown long term cycles, climate change, ect ... Most people here in Miranda like to note its sunny. Thats fine, but these are the same people who gossip the most & hold grudges the longest. I feel bad for some of them. It is important especially for those who struggle with depth of mind, but its hardly of much true value. Thank you for reading my response.