Happiness and sadness have different effects on verbal behavior. Happiness may either lead to shallow happy-go-lucky, small talk moments or more profound and deep interactions that are meaningful and fulfilling. Sadness similarly may facilitate deep philosophical ruminations and conversations or lead to shallow and trivial small talk. Which of these is the actual scenario is not intuitive, but new research by Mehl et al has come to our rescue and provides a definitive answer.
Meh et al used the Electronically activated recorder (EAR) which is a device that unobtrusively records 30 s snippets of conversation at random times of the day as the subjects as they go about their daily life. As such it is a better measure than experience sampling method (ESM) which is intrusive and relies on self reports.
The coders than analyzed and coded the snippets of conversations as captured using EAR into small talk versus substantive conversations. Also the number of time spent in conversations and socially versus time spent alone was also calculated for the subjects.
The subjects filled self-report satisfaction with life survey as well as other happiness measures which were used to calculate the well being/happiness index for the subjects.
The results were clear. Happy people spent more time talking to others in social settings versus spending time alone. further, happy people spent much more time in substantive conversations than in making samll talk. this was revers in the case of sad people.
However, the authors caution, and I believe it is a reasonable rider. that this study is correlational and does not elucidate the direction of causality. It may be the case that happy people have more substantive conversations to make or t may be the case that just as self-disclosure leads to intimacy having deep and meaningful conversations leads to happiness.
The full text is available for free online and is written in a very lucid manner and I recommend reading it in full. I am including a snippet to whet the appetite.
Together, the present findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial. What makes these findings especially compelling is the lack of method overlap between the well-being measures (self- and informant reports) and the interaction measures (direct observation). Also, the replication of findings across measures of well-being and across weekday and weekend behavior is encouraging.
Naturally, our correlational findings are causally ambiguous. On the one hand, well-being may be causally antecedent to having substantive interactions; happy people may be “social attractors” who facilitate deep social encounters (Lucas & Dyrenforth, 2006). On the other hand, deep conversations may actually make people happier. Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in the interaction partners. Therefore, our results raise the interesting possibility that happiness can be increased by facilitating substantive conversations (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). Future research should examine this possibility experimentally.
Remarking on Socrates’ dictum that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” Dennett (1984) wrote, “The overly examined life is nothing to write home about either” (p. 87). Although we hesitate to enter such delicate philosophical disputes, our findings suggest that people find their lives more worth living when examined?at least when examined together.
Indeed, a life examined together and being more social/ loquacious and deep
is definitely more happy and worth living.
Mehl, M., Vazire, S., Holleran, S., & Clark, C. (2010). Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797610362675