Only the most adept social butterfly doesn’t feel that twinge of anxiety before sitting down at a dinner party next to a stranger—for some, fear of filling the air with chatter can be almost paralyzing, particularly when you’re placed next to someone who seems reticent to chatter. But, as Dr. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist in Manhattan (who also writes a blog called The Positive Prescription, explains, pushing through to make meaningful conversation is good for everyone. “Making a point to talk about stuff that matters is a simple way to cultivate happiness,” whether that’s with a guy you’ve never met at a friend’s house, a date, or your angsty tween. Below, she explains more.
Does the thought of making small talk fill you with dread? You’re not alone. Most people dislike idle chitchat because it feels fake and like a waste of time. We can all agree that talking about the weather is not interesting unless you are speaking to a meteorologist and a hurricane is on the way.
Contrary to conventional advice to “keep it light,” studies show that people prefer having deeper and more meaningful discussions. Moreover, engaging in substantive conversations is linked with greater happiness and well-being. There are two main explanations for this—we are meaning-seeking animals and we are social animals. Conversing about our experiences and the world around us enables us to find meaning in our lives. Good conversations also facilitate bonding and a greater connection with the person with whom we are speaking.
Simply put, making a point to talk about stuff that matters is a simple way to cultivate happiness.
That said getting a conversation going is not always easy. On a date, at a dinner party, or even with a loved one, dialogue doesn’t always flow. We have all had awkward experiences when it felt like pulling teeth to get the other person to engage. Equally challenging is feeling “stuck” at a dinner party next to someone who is rambling on about something you have no interest in.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. Consider re-framing the situation. Instead of dwelling on how dull your dinner partner is or how difficult he or she is to talk to, ask yourself, “What can I learn from them?”
Channeling a more open mindset can transform a boring encounter into an interesting one. In a research paper entitled, “With Our Questions We Make the World,” the authors illustrate the power of an open mindset:
“Depending on whether I listen to you through the question ‘What is valuable about what she’s saying?’ or ‘Why is she wasting my time?’ I will hear very different messages.”
Remember, everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.
Here are 8 ways to make your conversations more meaningful:
Bottom Line: Talking about stuff that matters is good for you and good for the person you are chatting with. Try to have at least five substantive conversations a week—not only will they boost your spirits, they will open your mind.