Chat It Up

Everyone Says They Hate Small Talk — But It’s Actually Really Good For You

Go ahead, laugh it up in the produce aisle.

Originally Published: 
Waist-up shot of a same-sex couple walking a train platform together. They are both wearing warm clo...
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“Crazy weather we’re having lately, huh?”

“Wow, gas prices sure came down a lot, didn’t they?”

“When are these grocery prices ever going to drop?”

Yep, it’s small talk. We’ve all done it. Most of us hate it. But, because of social norms, we all take part in seemingly inane mini-conversations with strangers or relative strangers, and nine times out of ten…it’s not so bad. In fact, according to new research, small talk is actually really good for you — and others.

A research team from Sabanci University in Istanbul collected questionnaire data from close to 3,300 people in Turkey, including questions about their interactions with strangers and acquaintances and their overall life satisfaction. Participants were asked specifically how often they thanked or greeted people and how frequently they initiated a conversation with a stranger over the last seven days.

They found that as much as it grates on many of us, engaging in inconsequential conversations was correlated to greater life satisfaction. The more often participants reported greeting, thanking, or initiating conversation with strangers or relative strangers, the higher they rated their overall life satisfaction. The findings were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science,

The researchers suggest that the inconsequential nature of these interactions doesn’t carry the same weight of anxiety as deeper connections, making them more accessible to people who would otherwise not engage with others. They also suggest that small interactions lead to a feeling of community — important stuff during the loneliness epidemic in the U.S.

But when we’re out in public alone, chances are we’re distracted by a screen, headphones on, decidedly not engaging. That makes it difficult for people to engage with us — and those small, insignificant interactions never happen. Taking out our earbuds, looking away from our phones, and actually engaging with the world around us and with the people in that world is so much more fulfilling and satisfying than doomscrolling on social.

It’s not just small talk that makes us happier. Small acts of kindness directed at others and yourself — like going out of your way to compliment a coworker, writing up a list of things you have gratitude for, or doing one little thing to brighten a friend’s day are also associated with greater life satisfaction, as well as more positive emotions, comfortable and more confident relationships, and better sleep.

So while small talk and small niceties might seem like a waste of time, you may be unleashing a groundswell of good feelings for your fellow stranger, and for yourself — all for the cost of a five-minute conversation about the wacky weather we’re having.

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