Chicken. Egg. Chicken. Egg. Chicken.

A new study has found a correlation between happiness and substantive conversation:
It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

"We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, 'Don't worry, be happy' — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you're happy, and if you go into the existential depths you'll be unhappy," Dr. Mehl said.

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

...The happiest person in the study, based on self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject, had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest, Dr. Mehl said. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — 45.9 percent of the day's conversations — were substantive.
Mehl believes that "by engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world," and wants to investigate in a subsequent study the possibility of "a cause-and-effect relationship between the kind of conversations one has and one's happiness."

Interesting. I'm generally a very happy person, and I have almost nothing but substantive conversations. No office, no coworkers, no smalltalk.

But I don't know that I'm happy because, or primarily because, I have substantive conversations. Having substantive conversations is indeed something I frequently enjoy, but that's because I'm predisposed to enjoying substantive conversations and have people with whom to have them.

Personally, I loathe smalltalk (because I'm not particularly good at it; it's a skill, and it's not one I have in abundance). But there are people I know who love nothing more than to smalltalk with strangers, people who are not disposed at all toward substantive conversations and actually try to avoid them.

So. I'm dubious about the potential for finding causation here. I'm guessing that the type of conversations one has reflects one's communication style, and that happiness is more closely related to how well one's life provides opportunity to utilize that style.

And I eagerly look forward to discussing these ideas with you in comments!

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