March 26, 2010

Happiness, Conversation & Memory Skills

By Charles Moffat - March 2010.

HEALTH - On my lap as I type this is the book "Auto Repair for Dummies"... Its not that people who read such books are dumb, its just that the "Blankety Blank Book for Dummies" are so comprehensive and user friendly that I highly recommend them for practical any topic.

ie. Killing Zombies for Dummies.

See? Does it really matter? A comprehensive guide to how to kill zombies and survive the zombie apocalypse. Sounds like a book we could all read.

The reason I am reading Auto Repair for Dummies is not because I need to fix something. Its more for general knowledge, for fun. I just like learning things and my eidetic memory is such that I remember every word I read. I am also learning American Sign Language and read books like the Police Officer's Manual and Pocket Reference Guide's for fun...

Now the reason I speak of these is because there is a new study out linking happiness to have lengthy indepth conversations, frequently drawing upon memory of pop culture facts, trivia, general knowledge, niche topics and interesting facts. The study published in the journal "Psychological Science" has discovered that happy people tend to engage in lengthy conversations rather than simply small talk.

Let me elaborate... I bumped into an elderly man today at the grocery store who quite cheerfully commented on the fruit juices I was trying to decide upon. The next thing we know we're chatting about ingredients in ice cream, red dye made from beetles, artificially flavouring, etc... the kind of conversation that wouldn't happen if:

A. Either of us knew nothing about the topic.

B. If either of was in a bad mood and unwilling to talk.

Eventually I shook his hand and walked away to finish my shopping. We could have stayed and made small talk (or discovered a more engaging topic to discuss), but we both had things to find and purchase.

The point the study leads to is that grumpy people generally don't make an effort to make conversation, especially with strangers. They just want to finish whatever they are doing and get out.

Likewise people only want to talk about things they are interested in and know something about. I can't really have a conversation about French literature because I know NOTHING about the topic and would probably find it boring. That doesn't mean it is boring, simply that I don't know enough about it to find it interesting.

Because I like cars however it makes perfect sense to brush up on my knowledge of cars, how they work, how to fix them and presumably this will be useful sometime in the future either for fixing a car or during conversations about cars or automotive repair.

However this study also points to another aspect... people who engage in conversation are also more likely to be happy. (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?) The concept here is the reverse... people who engage in conversation feel their moods brighten because they are talking about things they enjoy, this releases happy endorphins into the blood and results in us feeling amused.

So if you're unhappy pick a topic you like and spark up a conversation with someone with a similar interest. This boosts your level of happiness and results in a cyclical effect of more happiness = more conversations = even more happiness and so on.

The same goes with other things like fun activities, sports, sex, human companionship, etc. If you're happy with the relationships around you then you will be happier overall, which makes you more motivated, more industrious and effective at your life.

In a bad relationship at home? Its probably effecting your mood at work and vice versa.

The study determined the following based on monitoring 79 students with digital recorders for 4 days:

The happiest person in the study had twice as much engaging conversations and less than a third of the small talk compared to the unhappiest person. Similar results were found for the other 77 students who were comparatively happy, not happy or more neutral (and ranked accordingly over a period of 4 days).

According to the researchers humans like to find meaning in the world around them and engage in conversation discussing the meanings. More meaningful conversations in our lives leads to more happiness...

In reverse people who engage in small talk have little in common with the other person and consequently feel less happy.

The researchers are now working on a second study to determine if its possible to deliberately trigger happiness via engaging conversations.

According to the study the effect seems to be strongest for men, who enjoy meaningful conversations more than women and see a stronger increase in their happiness levels. I think the reason is because men find it more difficult to find common ground with other men... Men have a narrow list of conversations they can usually discuss... sports, cars, computers, breasts, guns, swords... you know so-called "manly things". Thus when men stumble upon a conversation with someone they can really enjoy it creates a stronger effect.

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