According to a new study, small talk is great, but meaningful conversation is what connects us to people and makes us happier.
For the study, researcher Matthias Mehl and his team equipped 79 college men and women with with a portable device called an electronically activated recorder (EAR), which periodically recorded bits of conversation as the participants went through their daily routines. Every 12.5 minutes a 30 second sample of sound was recorded. The sampling went on for a period of four days, acquiring more than 23,000 recordings (about 300 per participant).
Mehl and his team then listened to the recordings, classifying them as either small talk (e.g. "What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!) or substantive (e.g. "She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?").
The participants also took tests to evaluate their personality and their well-being.
Mehl and his team found that those who reported higher levels of well-being were those who spent less time alone and more time talking with others. Those who were happier also spent more time engaged in substantive conversations rather than small talk.
The study doesn't prove whether deeper conversations actually make people happier, according to Mehl. It could be that happy people are simply better at engaging in deeper conversation. The study results do, however, complement other happiness research, which indicate that happiness is linked with greater social support.
The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.