Uber Images/shutterstockUh-oh—you just ran into an old acquaintance or co-worker in an elevator, a grocery store, or in front of the office coffee machine. What do you do? Hope they don’t notice you? Make awkward small talk? Your mood may not be any better for it, science says.
In fact, you may not be able to buy happiness (unless you spend your money like this, of course), but you sure can talk your way into it. Just take psychologist Matthias Mehl and his team’s word for it.
Their study, published in the journal Psychological Science, examined the connections between happiness and meaningful conversation. Seventy-nine college students attached an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their shirt collar, which captured 30-second snippets of their conversations every 12.5 minutes for four days. This created what Dr. Mehl described as an oral “diary” of their day. The students also completed life satisfaction reports, and other people in their lives submitted feedback, as well.
Then, researchers categorized the students’ conversations as either small talk, such as conversations regarding the weather or a recent TV show, or more substantive conversation, including topics like philosophy and current affairs.
According to the final data, the happiest person in the study had twice as many meaningful conversation—and only one-third the amount of small talk!—as the unhappiest person. About half of the conversations the happiest person had were substantive in nature, and only 10 percent were small talk. (Here’s how happy thoughts can make you healthier, to boot.) As for the unhappiest person? Only 22 percent of that person’s conversations were substantive, the study found.
But don’t start blabbering on about Darwin’s evolutionary theory just yet! Further research is still needed to determine “whether people make themselves happier by having substantive conversations, or whether people who are already happy choose to engage in meaningful talk.” Still, it’s clear that “happiness and meaningful interactions go hand-in-hand,” Psychology Today wrote.
“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl told the New York Times. “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.”
So the next time you’re grasping for idle chit-chat at the company water cooler, ditch the “how are you”s and opt for a deeper dive into your co-worker’s line of work or where they grew up, instead.
By the way, here’s something to give you a mood boost: Science says you’ll be happiest during these two years of your life.