Does this sound counterintuitive to you? New research reports that people who spend more of their time having meaningful conversations and less time engaged in small talk seem to be happier. The author, Dr. Matthais Mehl of the University of Arizona, talks about this outcome: “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.”
Yet, this is not the outcome of his study. Why? More intimate conversations seem to hold the key to happiness because they promote real bonds between people. “We know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness,” Mehl states. He cautions that he doesn’t yet know if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations. This is the next step in his study. But he does suggest that if you want to skip the chit chat, you can use these four strategies to encourage more rewarding conversations and deeper connections with others.
1. Dare to disclose. Substantive conversations require some level of personal disclosure. They don’t necessarily need to be driven by emotion. They might be about politics, your favorite books and movies, or even what you watched last night on TV. The key is to insert something revealing about yourself in the conversation. This sets the stage for the other person to open up.
2. Be a full participant. If you want to have a more involved dialogue, be sure to give your full attention. This can be difficult in our time-pressed and multi-tasking culture. So if you find yourself going over your to-do list in your head, bring your attention back to the conversation at hand. This can make a surprising difference in the quality of the interchange.
3. Find common ground. People look for commonality as a way of leading to more meaningful exchanges. The key is to identify that common ground. Next time you’re having a dialogue, listen for the areas you share in common and use them as a jumping off point to deeper levels of talk.
4. Embrace your environment. Whether a discussion is one-on-one or in a group, it’s important to choose a place where everyone feels comfortable. The right location can make you feel secure and confident, and when people are relaxed, their guards go down and disclosures go up.
While small talk is a useful skill, don’t stop there. Why not conduct your own experiment. For the next five days, have one extra substantive conversation every day. Check out for yourself whether this leads to greater happiness. I’d love to know what happens!