It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Higher well-being was associated with less small talk and having more substantive conversations. Compared with the unhappiest participants [in this study], the happiest participants … had roughly one third as much small talk and twice as many substantive conversations.” (Psychological Science, “Eavesdropping on Happiness,” Feb. 18, 2010)
When I started this girl-dating journey, I believed in the whole “don’t talk about religion or politics around the dinner table” thing. I didn’t want to stop a potential friendship in its tracks just because I went to Obama’s Grant Park election night rally while she might have spent that glorious evening mourning the fall of Sarah Palin.
I’ll keep it light and friendly, I thought. All Chicagoans can bond over the weather—seriously, Sun, it’s May—and I can talk about tabloid headlines all night if necessary.
But I’ve found the girl-dates that inspire me to skip home are the ones where we do, in fact, get serious. During one particularly promising dinner, my maybe-friend and I traded stories about our vastly different upbringings and debated the Man Upstairs and the existence of soul mates. (Her: “Do you believe in soul mates?” Me: “You mean, like us?” No, I didn’t really say that. But almost.)
Science backs up my anecdotal research, and to be honest, I’m a bit surprised. If you’d asked me a few months ago who I thought was happier, those who ponder life’s big questions or those who don’t sweat the (big or) small stuff, I’d have said the latter.
“It could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’” one of the authors of the study told the New York Times. I get that. The big thinkers so often seem the most somber, dragged down by the weight of the world.
But “substantive conversation” in this case isn’t limited to dissecting the meaning of life. A profound social encounter was defined as “an involved conversation of a substantive nature (i.e., meaningful information was exchanged, e.g., ‘She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?’)” Talking about TV even counts, if you’re analyzing characters and motivations. This is good for me. My Survivor strategy sessions are officially considered profound discussion. I knew it.
Needless to say, I no longer shy away from serious talks on the first girl-date. If it will make us both happier, then we’ll want to hang out again. And again. As long as we both shall live.
The study concludes that, “the happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial.” What it doesn’t venture is which came first. Are happier people more likely to have deep conversations? Or do deep conversations increase a person’s well-being?
What do you think? Which came first—the happiness or the depth? Do you tend to keep it light when you meet new people, or delve into more meaningful discussion?