Could Taking Part in a Discussion Project Make You Happier?

When I talk to people about participating in one of the Interactivity Foundation’s Discussion Projects (such as my upcoming project on Shaping our Towns & Cities), they often ask me what they might get out of the process. A lot of past panelists have told me that the opportunity to engage in collaborative and generative discussions with their peers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole experience. So I wasn’t surprised to see Roni Caryn Rabin’s blog post at the NY Times under the title of “Talk Deeply, Be Happy?”:

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.

Now, I’m not going to take an empirical research approach to all this (if you’re interested, you can find Mehl’s article here). But Mehl’s study does resonate with what I’ve witnessed in my projects. People enjoy the opportunity the chance to engage in a non-contentious conversation that enables them to think big about the big issues confronting us as individuals and as members of society. So, will taking part in my discussion project make you happier? I’ve got reason to think so, but there’s only one way to find out. Just let me know if you’re interested.

–Jeff Prudhomme

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