ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Garlic Yields Up Its Health Secret
Acupuncture Eases Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Scientists ID New Genes Tied to Crohn's Disease
Backpack Safety Should Be on Back-to-School Lists
Resistance Training Boosts Mobility in Knee Arthritis Patients
CANCER
Researchers ID Genetic Markers for Esophageal Cancer
Tanning Beds Shown To Raise Cancer Risk, Study Says
Immune Therapy May Aid Kids With Neuroblastoma
CAREGIVING
Coordination Has Led to Quicker Heart Treatment
Older Caregivers Prone to Worse Sleep Patterns
Health Tip: Benefitting From Adult Day Care
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Support Network May Play Role in Benefits of Drinking
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
COSMETIC
Health Tip: After Liposuction
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
Good Oral Hygiene May Protect Against Heart Infections
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
Laser Technology Spots Cavities Before They Start
DIABETES
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
The Best Diet? That Depends on You
Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Atkins Diet Tougher on Heart After Weight Loss
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Global Warming May Bring More Respiratory Woes
Air Pollution May Cause Appendicitis: Study Reveals
Prenatal Exposure to Traffic Pollution May Lead to Asthma
EYE CARE, VISION
Unconscious Learning: In the Eye of the Beholder?
Clues Found to Brain Mechanism Behind Migraines
Magnetic Pulses to Brain Improve Lazy Eye in Adults
FITNESS
Resistance Training Boosts Mobility in Knee Arthritis Patients
Fall Cleanup Is a Prime Time for Accidents
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
GENERAL HEALTH
Household Insecticides May Be Linked to Autoimmune Diseases
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Spread of Swine Flu in Japan Could Raise WHO Alert to Highest Level
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Potassium-Rich Foods May Cut Stroke, Heart Disease Risk
Fewer Heart Attacks After England Goes Smoke-Free
Small Cuts in Salt Intake Spur Big Drops in Heart Trouble
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Family Medicine Cabinet Top Source Of Kid's Poisonings
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
School Phys. Ed. Injuries Up 150 Percent
MEN'S HEALTH
The Dark Side of Vegetarianism
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
Music Soothes Anxiety as Well as Massage Does
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
Exercise Boosts Bone Density in Breast-Feeding Moms
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
SENIORS
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
Want Better Health in the New Year, Add Exercise to Your Day
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Supportive Weigh-In Program Keeps Pounds Off
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
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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