You probably don’t need a psychologist to know being more social can make you happier. But the TYPE of talker that is happiest might surprise you.
You might think the person who can start a conversation in any situation and small talk till they’re blue in the face would be a happier camper. Well, according to a study done last year (2010) titled “Eavesdropping on Happiness,” maybe not.
The study’s findings can be important for shy people and introverts to know.
How they performed the study
The researchers set out to assess the level of happiness associated with people who engage in more small talk (i.e. – the weather, sports, TV shows, etc.) vs. more substantive talk (i.e. – feelings, opinions, meaningful information to the people involved).
The study was done with 79 college students who were asked to wear audio recorders for several days. Randomly during waking hours, sound recordings were taken resulting in about 24,000 audio files.
These snippets were then sorted by researchers into small talk (18%) and more substantive talk (36%) – which was defined as talk with more meaning. The remainder of the snippets couldn’t be categorized neatly into either category.
The students involved had previously been assessed for their general level of happiness.
What did they find?
Well, as I’ve mentioned above, they found the happier students were the ones who talked more to others in general – no surprise there. We’re social creatures after all.
But what was perhaps unexpected is the people who engaged in more small talk and less substantive talk were less happy than those who did the opposite. So yes, people who engaged in more meaningful talk with others were generally happier.
Perhaps it was unexpected because when people think of meaningful talk, they relate that to pouring out feelings and emotions when someone is upset. Of course that’s not the only type of big talk you can have. On the other hand, chipper, light and bubbly small talk is easy to relate to happiness. (not that your small talk has to be chipper or bubbly…ick!)
Why is this important to know?
Well, while they’re not sure of the “direction of causality” of the study (in other words, they’re not sure if having more substantial talk makes you happier or if happier people naturally have more substantial talk), it’s clear that happier people talk more and talk about more substantial things.
I interpret this to mean the more friends you have; real, close friends; the happier you are. Think about it.
Your friends, the people who get to know you and you them, they’re the ones you’ll feel more comfortable talking to about your feelings, opinions and important things going on in your life.
So following that line of thinking, more true friends = more happiness. In case you needed another reason to work on being more social, science just gave it to you.
So do you even need small talk?
Well then, if you’ll be happier having more substantial talk with people, then small talk isn’t as important, right? I think it is.
Small talk is how we get to know others. It’s how we end up starting conversations to see if others might fit into our lives somehow. Eventually, the better you get at small talk, that’s more potential true friends you can find and make.
I don’t think any of us would argue that having more true friends in our life would be a bad thing. So what’s keeping you from that? Is it a lack of knowing how to start a conversation and engage in small talk? Is it low self-confidence? Is it both? (Yup, that was me years ago…)
On the other hand, if you’re not even relating important things to the people who are already close to you, then you’re missing out on a perfect opportunity for happiness. If you always hide who you are and your real feelings and thoughts, then you’ll begin to feel less like a human being.
We need others to see who we really are to feel real and yes, to be truly happy.
Ask yourself what’s holding you back from making friends and being happier. Then think of what you can do to overcome those obstacles.