Saturday, November 26, 2011

Something I've felt was true for a long time! If only there were a larger sample size in the research.....

Talk Deeply, Be Happy
The New York Times Health Blog
March 17, 2010

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

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.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

Dr. Mehl’s study was small and doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the kind of conversations one has and one’s happiness. But that’s the planned next step, when he will ask people to increase the number of substantive conversations they have each day and cut back on small talk, and vice versa.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved 79 college students — 32 men and 47 women — who agreed to wear an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their lapel that recorded 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes for four days, creating what Dr. Mehl called “an acoustic diary of their day.”

Researchers then went through the tapes and classified the conversation snippets as either small talk about the weather or having watched a TV show, and more substantive talk about current affairs, philosophy, the difference between Baptists and Catholics or the role of education. A conversation about a TV show wasn’t always considered small talk; it could be categorized as substantive if the speakers analyzed the characters and their motivations, for example.

Many conversations were more practical and did not fit in either category, including questions about homework or who was taking out the trash, for example, Dr. Mehl said. Over all, about a third of all conversation was ranked as substantive, and about a fifth consisted of small talk.

But 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, while only 21.8 percent of the unhappiest person’s conversations were substantive.

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.

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”
Editorial: "Have You Stopped Being Devious?"
Vedemosti November 15, 2011
Translated by Johnson's Russia List (November 17, 2011)

In an interview for Itogi magazine, Sergey Sobyanin, the progressive mayor of the Russian capital, formulated a universal slogan that all representatives of the Russian regime should now adopt. Answering a question about the stylistic coincidence between the street advertising for the State Duma elections put in place by the Moscow City Electoral Commission and the advertising produced by United Russia, which is running in these elections, Sobyanin said: "I do not see anything unlawful in the coincidences that you cite.... Why be devious? Of course we are not separate from parties and politics. When we talk about United Russia we imply that on a Moscow scale the authorities -- city and party -- are essentially the same...."

The mayor did not mention the Moscow City Electoral Commission and did not formally dispute its independence envisioned by federal law. On the other hand, in his reply he de facto replaced the Moscow City Electoral Commission with the broader concept of "the city authorities." It is honest. And it would be no bad thing to extend the slogan "Why be devious?" to other spheres of the relationship between the regime and society.

For example, it is time that Rostrebnadzor (Federal Service for Oversight in the Sphere of the Protection of Consumers' Rights and People's Well-Being) stopped being devious by talking about Tajik migrants having a predisposition toward tuberculosis. And also about the harmfulness of Moldovn and Georgian wines, Latvian sprats, Belarusian dairy products, and so forth. It is unseemly for a big and strong country to pursue a policy without calling things by their proper names.

It is time that officials of every stripe stopped being devious about state acquisitions by painting a picture of impartial compliance with tender procedures when contracts are given to organizations that they themselves have created. It is time that officials and business people stopped describing the absolutely mandatory sponsorship of sports teams and pre-election events as a social responsibility on the part of the business community.

The law-enforcement agencies should stop disguising their economic interests and practices as concern for the security of citizens and the country. And the economic authorities should stop talking about the creation of conditions for business and the reduction of taxes and checks. It is time that ministries stopped being devious by describing as strategies and programs new plans that are written to obtain brownie points and whose content is transferred from old plans, whose figures change before our very eyes, and whose implementation nobody ever checks. Why be devious in talking about the development and modernization of the country and the diversification of the economy?

It is time that the courts stopped pretending that they are independent. And that parliament stopped pretending that it is a place for debate (Boris Gryzlov warned about this long time ago, incidentally). It is time that all three branches of power -- the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary -- stopped pretending that there is a separation of powers between them. It is time to stop being devious by describing "the elections" as elections.