ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Insight on Herbals Eludes Doctors, Patients Alike
Garlic Yields Up Its Health Secret
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
ANIMAL CARE
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Beware of Dog Bites
Safe Toys for Dogs
BONES & JOINTS
Rheumatoid Arthritis a Threat to the Heart
Fall Sports Peak Time for Lower Leg Damage
A Winning Strategy to Beat Spring Sporting Injuries
CANCER
Multiple Screening Strategy Boosts Cervical Cancer Detection
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Some Spices Cut Cancer Risk That Comes With Grilled Burgers
CAREGIVING
Recession Scrambling Health Spending in U.S.
Caregivers Face Multiple Strains Tending Older Parents
Transition From Home to Hospital Rarely Seamless
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
High Blood Fat Levels Common in Americans
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
COSMETIC
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
Laser Technology Spots Cavities Before They Start
Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk
Good Oral Hygiene May Protect Against Heart Infections
DIABETES
Strict Blood Sugar Lowering Won't Ease Diabetes Heart Risk
Doctors Urged to Screen Diabetics for Sleep Apnea
Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
The 3LS Wellness Program for Reversing Chronic Symptoms and Creating Lasting Health
Fruit Even Healthier Than Thought: Study Shows
Indian Spice May Thwart Liver Damage
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Lead Exposure in Childhood Linked to Criminal Behavior Later
Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems
Global Warming Biggest Health Threat of 21st Century, Experts Say
EYE CARE, VISION
Nutrient-Rich Diet Lowers Risk of Age-Related Eye Disease
When Corks Fly, Watch the Eyes
Kids Think Glasses Make Others Look Smart, Honest
FITNESS
Keep Safety in Mind While Your Kids Are Cooling Off in the Water
Exercise Extends Life of Kidney Patients
The Juice From Beetroots May Boost Stamina
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
GENERAL HEALTH
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
Toxins May Form When Skin, Indoor Ozone Meet
What you need to know about swine flu.
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Ginkgo Won't Prevent Heart Attack, Stroke in Elderly
Small Cuts in Salt Intake Spur Big Drops in Heart Trouble
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Music May Temper Pain in Preemies
Boosting Kids' Stroke IQ May Save Lives
When It Comes to Toys, Shop Smart, Shop Safe
MEN'S HEALTH
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Lots of Sex May Prevent Erectile Dysfunction
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
MENTAL HEALTH
Meditation, Yoga Might Switch Off Stress Genes
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
Musicians' Brains Tuned to Emotions in Sound
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Mom's Extra Pregnancy Pounds May Raise Child's Heart Risks
SENIORS
Vitamin D May Help Keep Aging at Bay
Money May Matter, Health-Wise, in Old Age
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Vitamin D Deficiency Puts 40% of U.S. Infants and Toddlers At Risk
Spice Compounds May Stem Tumor Growth
Add your Article

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