WriteSpa 86 – Talking Your Way to Happiness

young-girls-campingDoes having a good conversation make you happier?

Psychologists believe so: a recent study* in Psychological Science demonstrates that happiness is related to more time talking to others and spending less time alone. The researchers also found that the more meaningful the conversation, the happier the participants.

Does the art of conversation need to be looked at in a new way?

We are born to talk – it’s a function of our being human just as is walking or sex. But it is also one of the least addressed in our society. We no longer offer elocution or speech classes, and even parents and teachers don’t exemplify the art of conversation to children much anymore.

People out together at a restaurant are just as likely to be texting as chatting.

When I brought this up as a topic of conversation with my friends, I was told that having conversations wasn’t easy for many people. It seems it’s not just shyness that shuts us down – it’s ignorance about how to carry on a conversation. So we had an interesting conversation about what makes a conversation interesting. These were aspects we agreed would make conversing a happier experience:

beach-umbrellasInterest: The most important quality you bring to any conversation is your own interest. Your interest is contagious, and makes for a more interesting conversation.

Ask questions: How do you summon interest for a topic or a person? Most important is to ask questions. Find out as much as you possibly can about the person. Have a pocketful of questions at the back of your mind if you’re not normally someone who asks questions, but soon the questions will come of their own accord.

Your questions are your most powerful tool to creating a conversation. Open-ended questions are best: these are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. On the other hand, avoid a vague, “Would you please tell me about yourself?” That can make the other person feel awkward and clam up.

Instead, ask something odd, different, but personal. Be creative.

  • “What was the best thing that happened to you this year?”
  • “Who is the most important person in your life?”
  • “What’s your ideal weekend?”

Listen: Conversation is as much about listening as it is about speaking. Actively listen – offer time and space for the other person to speak, and respond with quiet “uh huhs” and nods.

Respond thoughtfully: Follow up with an observation or a signal that you’ve heard what the other person has said. When you’re asked a question, add a small tidbit that expatiates on your response, something that leaves the door open to another question. Conversation is a two-way street.

Use body language: Body language establishes rapport. Show in your gestures, your expression, your eye contact that you are interested. An animated expression inspires conversation. If you remain deadpan or act as though you are simply waiting your turn, conversation will falter, I guarantee it.

Root for shared topics of interest: Ask questions that open the floor to topics you may not know you both could talk about. If someone else brings up an unfamiliar topic, ask about it – that helps conversation to flow.

Another interesting aspect of the study is that the depth or substantiveness of the conversations makes a difference to our happiness index. “The happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants.”

In other words, happy people are not just superficially social, but they find meaning in conversation with their fellow human beings. Deep conversations make you happier.

Why? Perhaps because we are on a quest to discover the meaning of life. Engaging in a profound conversation is a satisfying milestone on our journey.


authorWriting Practice – Have a conversation

Pay attention to the next few conversations you have, and try to take them to a deeper level than you usually do. You might feel awkward at first, especially if you’re not typically used to digging into another person’s experiences and interests, but if you practice this you’ll find it soon becomes second nature, and even pleasant.

Do you notice a shift in your mood after having a meaningful conversation with someone? Notice what happens to your mood.



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