One of my mom's favorite musicals when I was growing up was The Pajama Game.
One of its show stoppers was a number called Small Talk:
Let's not talk of the weather
Or the fashions for the fall
Why don't you stop all this small talk?
I've got something better for your lips to do
And that takes no talk at all
Richard Adler and Jerry Ross knew their way around a lyric, and it turns out they also knew their way around mental health.
This week's most confusing story may be in the new Psychological Science. It's a study of happiness from University of Arizona researcher Matthias Mehl, to which some have given the misleading headline Happy People Have the Gift of Gab
What Mehl found was quite the opposite. Happy people know how to have deep conversations about their emotions with other people. They don't just chit-chat.
I should know. My dad was a master of chit-chat. I went to work with him (he ran a small business) for 15 years, and when he was behind his counter he was a charming man. He could talk to anyone about anything. They left feeling happy, and he watched them leave having made a sale.
But when he came home he was miserable. Vast gulfs opened between my dad and my mom, between him and me, between him and everyone important to him. Because deep, emotional conversation was nearly impossible for him.
Call it Willy Loman syndrome, after the hero of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. My dad's death was a slow-motion version of Loman's own. When he lost his business, at age 73, he started to fade, and was never healthy again.
I mention this mainly because chitchat is not what Mehl or Adler are talking about. They're talking about serious conversations, emotional conversations, opening up on topics important in your life, with people who are closest to you. You feel better, they feel better, there's less stress all around.
Or, to go with another song lyric, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Depending on your own cultural touchstones that's either from Funny Girl or Spamalot.
Note: My mom loved the 1955 original with John Raitt (Bonnie's dad) but I'm using the 2006 revival with Harry Connick Jr. because it's more relevant to the story than the leering male faces on the original.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com