Here's an alert for all you chit-chatters out there:
A new study out of the University of Arizona found that people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier than those who don't.
More specifically, small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person's conversations, while it made up almost three times as much -- or 28.3 percent -- of the unhappiest person's conversations.
The author of the report, Professor Matthias Mehl, told The New York Times: "We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way - it could have been ... [that] 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." He surmises that deep conversations could make us feel more fulfilled because they help us think that our lives are meaningful while also helping to satisfy our craving to connect more deeply with others.
His findings make sense to me. After all, how many times has it happened that you've casually asked someone "How's it going?" and she has taken your greeting quite literally, launching into a litany of gripes about the rough week she's been having. We like to talk, and we like to talk about what's important. This is one reason--perhaps the chief reason--that psychotherapy is so popular.
I'll also admit that meaningless chatter drives me nut, and I will avoid it at all costs. For instance, if a person begins telling me a long and detailed story about her arduous morning commute, I have been known to feign mad-cow disease to get out of it.
But, after reading about the study, what I wanted to know is: Are daters happier when we get deep? Or does dating conversation fall into a different category? Do we get freaked out on a first date if the convo is too intense?
I got in touch with Dr. Mehl to ask him about all this.
MAURA: Your study would imply that on a first date, it's okay--better, even--to get deep. But is that true?
MEHL: I believe so. Another recent study--which brought random strangers together and asked them to interact using mutual personal disclosure--found that the more you disclose, the more there is a sense of intimacy and connection.
MAURA: Fair enough. Although I will say, speaking from personal experience, there's a fine line between getting deep and coming off as a nut-job; I think it's best to stay away from "deep" topics like your most recent ex-boyfriend, any psychopharmaceutical drugs you're taking, and your conflicted relationship with your shrink.
That said ... do you have any advice about how people who don't find it terribly easy to settle into a more serious conversation can get deep?
MEHL: Talking deeply doesn't necessarily mean talking about your most intense personal experiences. In our study, substantive conversations were often about public events & politics, technology, and religion or philosophy. A variety of topics nicely lend themselves to substantive conversations--and in theory any topic can be talked about substantively. It's not the subject matter as much as how you approach it. ...
(All right, now it's Maura again ... )
He has a good point, doesn't it? So perhaps a good rule of thumb for first dates is this: Get deep, but not too personal.
Anyway, folks, what do you think? Have you been burned after getting too deep on a first date? Or has it paid off nicely?