Talk Yourself Into a Better Mood

It’s okay to stick with chitchat around the water cooler, but meaningful conversation is the best way to talk yourself into a better mood, according to new research. In a recent study that matched self-reported happiness ratings with conversation quality, people who had more substantive conversations felt happier than those who engaged primarily in small talk. In the study, which was co-authored by Matthias R. Mehl, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s department of psychology, the conversations of 97 undergrads were recorded over four days then coded as either small talk or substantive. (Small talk was defined as trivial banter—like one-liners about the weather—while substantive conversation involved a sharing of ideas and information, like catching up with friends or discussing opinions about current events.) Overall, higher well-being was reported by the people who talked the most and spent the least amount of time alone, period, but the happiest individuals engaged in a third less small talk and had twice as many meaning-ful conversations as the unhappiest people.

So how much deep conversation does it take to trigger an increased level of happiness? Researchers are hesitant to assign a value, but in a second study, Mehl found that “prescribing” just five extra fifteen-minute substantive conversations over the course of a week led participants to report feeling a bit happier. Rather than keep tally of your conversations, just look for opportunities to engage in a meaningful way. Your mood may get a boost, and whoever is at the other end of the conversation can benefit too.


Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You by Jessica Cassity

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