Does having more conversations lead to greater happiness and fulfillment?
Do deep conversations improve our well-being more than small talk?
Can conversations add 15 years to our lives?!
We’re going to get to the bottom of all 3 questions. Let’s start from the top.
In 2018, Prof. Matthias Mehl, University of Arizona in Tucson, ran a study on 486 participants to dig into find out if humans should strive to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with others to improve our well-being.
Participants in the study were asked to carry recording devices programmed to turn on intermittently throughout the day to collect bits of conversation.
Researchers analyzed conversation recordings to determine whether they were “small talk” or “substantial conversations.” Small talk was defined as “a conversation where the two conversation partners walk away still knowing equally as much — or little — about each other,” says Prof. Mehl. Substantial conversations were defined as conversations where “real, meaningful information was exchanged…it could be about any topic — politics, relationships, the weather — it just needs to be at a more than trivial level of depth.”
Recommended For You
First, quantity of conversations undeniably improves well-being. “The more conversations someone tended to have — that is, the more they were exposed to social interactions — the better they seemed to fare, and vice versa.”
Second, substantive conversations lead to a higher quality of life. Participants who had more substantive conversations with others reported a greater degree of happiness, overall. This was true both for extroverts and for introverts. “People who are more satisfied with their lives also have more substantive conversation. And that’s on top of the whole quantity of interactions.”
What about small talk? Interesting enough, small talk had zero impact on quality of life, either negative, or positive. “People’s small talk wasn’t at all related to people’s satisfaction of life,” Mehl said. “So it wasn’t that people who did more small talk were happier — we didn’t find the opposite — it just seems to be an inactive ingredient.”
In 2020, this research seems more relevant than ever. We’re facing epidemic proportions of loneliness, exacerbated by prolonged social distancing which is completely redefining how we work, play, and stay close to each other.
Prior to Covid-19, Cigna published a study that unveiled a loneliness crisis of “epidemic” proportions, according to Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health. The study reported nearly half of Americans feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time. In addition, 54% of respondents said they feel no one knows them well, and 4 in 10 reported they “lack companionship,” their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and they “are isolated from others.”
“Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,” said Dr. Nemecek in releasing the report. This is equivalent to losing 15 years of your life.
Threading this all together, 2020 marks the 82nd year that researchers at Harvard University began following 724 college age men as part of the longest running study in history on human development. Their objective? To determine what factors lead to healthy and happy lives.
Key results suggest that happiness and health do not result from fame and fortune. Instead, as the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development Robert Waldinger put it, the clearest message to emerge is, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” According to the study, “close relationships…are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”
So what is the science telling us here?
First, increase your well-being and happiness by increasing the quantity of conversations.
Second, increase your satisfaction in life by increasing the quality of the conversations.
Third, by doing these two things, you’re actively fighting against loneliness and isolation, and literally prolonging your life. To the tune of giving up 15 cigarettes a day, which translates to adding 15 years to your life.
Finally, it takes two to have a conversation – so you’re not just helping yourself – you’re also helping your conversation partners live longer, happier, and healthier lives.
Where to start having more conversations?
The science is unequivocal. The hard part is finding the time, space, topics, and maybe even partners for meaningful conversation.
That’s why we built twine, a first-of-its-kind conversation platform that facilitates meaningful convos (on life’s Big Questions!) via short video chats between optimistic, open-minded explorers of humanity.
Our hope is to make meaningful conversations accessible to anyone. To create a place where we can all go to improve our collective well being through conversations that make us all stronger, healthier, and happier. So that, no matter where you are, you can jump into a meaningful conversation to make your life, and someone else’s, better.
Can Conversations Add 15 Years To Your Life? Yes, and here’s the science behind it!