It's okay to stick with chitchat around the water cooler, but meaningful conversation is the best way to talk yourself into a better mood, according to new research. In a recent study that matched self-reported happiness ratings with conversation quality, people who had more substantive conversations felt happier than those who engaged primarily in small talk. In the study, which was co-authored by Matthias R. Mehl, PhD, assistant professor in the University of Arizona's department of psychology, the conversations of ninety-seven undergrads were recorded over four days, then coded as either small talk or substantive. (Small talk was defined as trivial banter—like one-liners about the weather—while substantive conversation involved a sharing of ideas and information, like catching up with friends or discussing opinions about current events.) Overall, higher well-being was reported by the people who talked the most and spent the least amount of time alone, period, but the happiest individuals engaged in a third less small talk and had twice as many meaning-ful conversations as the unhappiest people.
So how much deep conversation does it take to trigger an increased level of happiness? Researchers are hesitant to assign a value, but in a second study, Mehl found that "prescribing" just five extra fifteen-minute substantive conversations over the course of a week led participants to report feeling a bit happier. Rather than keep tally of your conversations, just look for opportunities to engage in a meaningful way. Your mood may get a boost, and whoever's at the other end of the conversation can benefit, too.
Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You by Jessica Cassity