ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
New Spray Could Benefit Cystic Fibrosis Patients
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Holistic Treatment for Candida Infection
Health Tip: Anticipating Acupuncture
Soybean Chemicals May Reduce Effects of Menopause
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
Safe Toys for Dogs
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Returning to the Road Tricky After Injury
Fruits and Veggies May Strengthen Bones
Most Kids With Type 1 Diabetes Lack Vitamin D
CANCER
Adding Garlic Might Cut Cancer Risk
To Quit Smoking, Try Logging On
Scams and Shams That Prey on Cancer Patients
CAREGIVING
Bariatric Surgery Centers Don't Deliver Better Outcomes
Child's Food Allergies Take Toll on Family Plans
Depression, PTSD Common Among Lung Transplant Patient Caregivers
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
High Blood Fat Levels Common in Americans
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
Smog Tougher on the Obese
COSMETIC
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
Study Links Osteoporosis Drugs to Jaw Trouble
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Findings Challenge Tight Glucose Control for Critically Ill Patients
Saliva Test Could Monitor Type 2 Diabetes
Abnormal Heart Rhythm Boosts Death Risk for Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Fatty Acid in Olive Oil Wards Off Hunger
Eating Lots Of Vegetables, Olive Oil May Extend Life
Adults Need To Get Thier Food Facts Straight
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Years of Exposure to Traffic Pollution Raises Blood Pressure
EPA Alerts Seniors to Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Chemicals in Carpets, Non-Stick Pans Tied to Thyroid Disease
EYE CARE, VISION
Decorative Halloween Eye Lenses May Pose Serious Risks
Guard Kids' Eyes Against Long-Term Sun Damage
Brain Pressure More Likely to Cause Vision Loss in Men
FITNESS
Study Shows Exercise Shields Against Osteoporosis
Have Fun This Summer, But DO Be Careful
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu May Pose Problems for Pregnant Women
Pesticides and How to Affordably Eat Organic or Reduce Pesticide Consumption
Most Fast-Food French Fries Cooked in Unhealthiest Oil
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Swine Flu Closes Three Schools in NYC
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Too Many Infants Short on Vitamin D
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
More Calcium And Dairy Products in Childhood Could Mean Longer Life
MEN'S HEALTH
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Countdown to Hair Loss
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
MENTAL HEALTH
Mind Exercise Might Help Stroke Patients
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
Meditation May Boost College Students' Learning
PAIN
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
SENIORS
Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Lowers Alzheimer's Risk
Exercise Benefits Even the Oldest Old
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Exercise During Pregnancy Keeps Newborn Size Normal
Air Pollution Slows Women's Marathon Times
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
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Can You Talk Your Way to Happy?

Small talk has its place as a social lubricant, but more meaningful conversations are what really make people happy, new research suggests.

"Small talk does have a function," said study author Matthias Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "For smooth social functioning, we need small talk."

But those who also have meaningful conversations -- what Mehl calls "substantive" talks -- are happier, he has found. "What really connects you to people is substantive, meaningful conversation rather than small talk."

"It doesn't have to be all about philosophy or the afterlife, it just has to have substance," he said.

For the study, Mehl equipped 79 college men and women with a portable device called an electronically activated recorder (EAR), which periodically records snippets of conversation as the wearers follow their normal routine. Every 12.5 minutes, the device samples 30 seconds of sounds.

Over four days' time, that totaled more than 23,000 recordings, or about 300 per participant.

Mehl's team listened to the recordings, classifying the conversations as small talk or substantive conversation.

For instance, small talk: "What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!" But the conversation that went like this was substantive: "She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?"

Participants took tests to evaluate their personality and their well-being.

Those who reported the higher levels of well-being, Mehl found, spent less time alone and more time talking to others. When he compared the unhappiest participants with the happiest, he found the happiest spent about 25 percent less time alone -- 58.7 percent of their time vs. 76.8 percent. They also spent about 70 percent more time talking -- 39.7 percent of the time vs. 23.2 percent.

The happiest also had about one third as much small talk as the unhappiest and twice as many substantive conversations.

While women may have a reputation as the gender most adept at discussing feelings -- and having deep conversations -- Mehl said the effects of having substantive conversations were slightly more for men, although he didn't delve into why.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

The study doesn't prove cause-and-effect, of course, Mehl said. It's not known if happy people are simple "social attractors" who find it easy to become involved in deep conversation, or if the deep conversations actually make people happy directly, he said.

But the results, he writes, "raise the interesting possibility that happiness can be increased by facilitating substantive conversations."

Two other experts who reviewed the findings said the study helps to answer the age-old puzzle of what makes people happy, but agreed it doesn't prove cause-and-effect . "We can't conclude that if you go out and have meaningful conversation you are going to be happier," said James Maddux, professor of psychology at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.

But the association makes sense, he said. When marriages go sour, he observed, "the conversation often changes; they talk about more superficial [topics]." In couples therapy, unhappy partners are often asked to begin to have meaningful conversations again.

It would not surprise him, he said, that if someone is unhappy in a relationship, one source of the unhappiness is a lack of meaningful conversation.

The device used in the study also "captures something real," rather than relying on self-reports, said Sonja Lyubormirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, a long-time happiness researcher who wrote The How of Happiness.

Often, in happiness research, she said, participants will self-report components such as their number of friends.

The new findings compliment other happiness research, she said. "There's lots of research showing happiness is linked with greater social support," she said. "Happier people spend more time with others. Substantive conversations [reported more by the happier people] would be a marker that they are talking to closer friends. This study is a nice validation."

SOURCES: Matthias R. Mehl, Ph.D., assistant professor, psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., professor, psychology, University of California, Riverside; James Maddux, Ph.D., professor, psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.; Feb. 18, 2010, Psychological Science, online

Last Updated: March 05, 2010