philosophers don’t *seem* happier…

(Oldish) NYTimes article: Talk Deeply, Be Happy? (I don’t normally post much stuff like this, but … well, here’s an exception.)

I guess having “substantive”* conversation is correlated to happiness.**

*”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.”

**”self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject”

But we all learned correlation doesn’t imply causation.  “Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.”  Like holding a pencil in your teeth and thus forcing a smile makes you happier.  (Studies have shown!  Also, for the record, people are messed up creatures.)

But it does at least imply correlation!  … Hm, I guess we philosophers should be really happy.

(And yet somehow, grading philosophy exams doesn’t feel like it contributes positively to my happiness (it’s like a conversation).  Maybe that’s in the “taking out the trash” category: “Many conversations were more practical and did not fit in either category, including questions about homework or who was taking out the trash.”)

Although maybe there’s some bias in the sample set because it’s all college students.  So maybe they feel like they should be engaging in “substantive” conversations, and when they don’t, they feel like they’re missing something important.  Maybe that’s not true for people who aren’t college students.  (Naturally, Dr. Mehl takes the more noble interpretation that in having substantive conversations, we give meaning to our lives and engage in meaningful social encounters.  Maybe there’s some of that, too.)  Anyhow, I imagine that’s why the proportion of substantive conversations was so high (30%!) to begin with anyway.

Or maybe. Just maybe. People who have more substantive conversations think more about substantive things and thus more frequently reflect upon decisions and views that affect their happiness. But that’s pretty idealistic and oversimplified.  Probably we can just hold pencils in our teeth and we’ll feel better.


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