Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Column Archive |  On Twitter: J Huget and MisFits  |  Fitness & Nutrition News  |  RSS Feeds RSS Feed

Read, then discuss: Happy people cut the chit-chat

Add to the long list of factors that may affect your overall happiness and well-being: Your ratio of idle chatter to deep and meaningful conversation.

A study in the March issue of Psychological Science shows that folks who tend to engage in substantial conversations more than in shallow chatter also tend to be happier than those whose talk is mostly light and breezy.

Researchers in the department of psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, used unobtrusive recording devices to catch snippets of 79 undergraduate students' conversations for 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes throughout the day for four days. They also measured the participants' self-reported levels of life satisfaction and general happiness using standard assessment tools.

Analyzing the more than 23,000 samples of talk they captured, they found that the happiest people spent 25 percent less time alone and 70 percent more time talking than the unhappiest. But they engaged in about 1/3 as much small talk.

"Naturally, " the study notes,

our correlational findings are causally ambiguous. On the one hand, well-being may be causally antecedent to having substantive interactions; happy people may be "social attractors" who facilitate deep social encounters.... On the other hand, deep conversations may actually make people happier. Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in the interaction partners. Therefore, our results raise the interesting possibility that happiness can be increased by facilitating substantive conversations.... Future research should examine this possibility experimentally.

Still, it's worth considering whether the quality of our conversation is related to the quality of our lives. If you find yourself limited largely to "What's for supper?" and "Pass the remote," perhaps you could try talking about something a bit weightier.

The Checkup pledges to continue providing fodder for meaty discussions. We just want you to be happy.

Please vote in today's deep and meaningful poll!

We're tweeting! You can follow the Post's Local Living writers, including Jennifer, at @wposthome/local-living. And keep track of my "Me Minus 10" effort to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 at

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 8, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Is That Right? In 22 cases, FDA says "No, it's not!"
Next: Women who drink more gain less weight


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,’ the conclusions that media have taken from the study—that small talk leaves people unhappy—is misplaced. It is the inability many people have to meaningfully connect with others that leaves them unhappy and socially isolated.

I maintain that small talk is an important skill to bridge that gap between strangers and a prerequisite for more substantive conversations.

Don Gabor is 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 or visit his website,

Posted by: don48 | March 8, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Previous Comment:

"I maintain that small talk is an important skill to bridge that gap between strangers and a prerequisite for more substantive conversations."

Agreed. Ever listen to business professionals use small talk to gauge the depth and thrust of subsequent serious conversations, eg., lawyers?

Would like to hear some agreed definitions on what constitutes small talk vs. serious conversations.

Much of my adult wisdom has been learning that people use conversation to conceal rather than reveal. It's a common business practice. I often listen for what is not said rather than what is said.

Posted by: Spectator | March 8, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Small minds discuss other people. Great minds discuss ideas.

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | March 8, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company