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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

KELLY: Deep talk brings happiness

How often do you get roped into chatting about something inane like homework or the weather? How many times a day do you find yourself shooting the bull about absolutely nothing?

This isn’t “Seinfeld.” In real life, “nothing” isn’t interesting. By my calculations, since coming to Milwaukee three years ago, I’ve had precisely three billion conversations about how cold it is. We get it. Milwaukee’s freezing. Please, can we talk about something — anything — more substantial?

This rant isn’t just me complaining (for the most part). Delving deeper into life can actually make you happier. University of Arizona psychologists published a study in the journal “Psychological Science” that found a connection between the depth of conversation topic and happiness.

The psychologists conducting the study gave 79 college students recorders and had them tape their conversations over the course of a week, creating what lead psychologist Matthias Mehl called “an acoustic diary of their day.” Researchers then went through the tapes and classified conversations as small talk (weather, having watched a TV show, etc.), substantive (current affairs, philosophy, analyzing a show, etc.) or practical (directions, whose turn it is to clean, etc.)

The results, though gleaned from a small sample size, were clear. The self-reported “happiest” person’s conversations were 46 percent substantive and 10 percent small talk. The unhappiest person: 22 percent substantive, with three times as much small talk. In general, happier people talked more about deeper subjects. It’s not direct cause-and-effect, but a relationship does exist.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

That’s a lot of shrink-speak for “when we talk about deep things, we connect with people, and that’s at the core of being alive.” Such an idea flies in the face of something I used to believe — that by not diving into more serious topics, we’re better off — the mantras “ignorance is bliss” and “don’t worry, be happy” ring true.

One of my pet peeves is people complaining about homework. Not to sound like a jerk, but I don’t care that your economics professor is, like, so mean because blah, blah, blah.

The worst time of year for dumb conversations is exam week, when students float around campus in a self-absorbed haze doing their best to finish the semester strong. “Oh, how’s studying going? … Yeah, yeah, that’s tough … I just gotta do X and Y and … Oh, Big Gulps, huh? Welp, see ya later.”

Obviously the study’s results don’t apply to everyone. I know generally happy people who don’t feel the need to philosophize. I get that sometimes people have to vent about school or work or friends or whatever. I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

I’m OK with talking about school, but let’s make it something worth both our time. Give me your take on that marketing strategy or that novel you read or that engineering project you’re designing. If you’re complaining about your boss or your homework again, I’m zoning out.

Instead, let’s talk about your stance on health care reform and what you think it means for our country, or what you like about HBO’s new drama “How To Make It In America” (it’s awesome, by the way).

The point I’m trying to make is that much can be gained from engaging conversation. Politics or religion shouldn’t serve as conversational turn-offs. Talking about this kind of stuff — topics that really make you think — is the way we form our opinions. And, according to those University of Arizona shrinks, at least part of the equation to leading a fulfilled life.

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  • K

    Kenny A.Apr 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    We all know what you mean by “deep talk.” Not fooling anyone here.