Sitting on the opposite end of the dinner table, he caught my eye. I had barely noticed him all night. I nodded my head slightly as though to ask, ‘How are you?’
He nodded back awkwardly. Shrugged his shoulders as though to say ‘fine’.
I could tell he felt awkward, out of place.
He’s not good at small talk. Superficial conversations slip right off him like water to a duck. He doesn’t know how to intercept chit-chat; redundant conversations that come to no conclusion and serve no real purpose.
I love him so much. He’s my favorite kind of person. The best listener in the world. The most thoughtful, rational, and zen person I know. The yin to my yang; my balance; my brother.
I hate that he’s self-conscious about the things that precisely make him so great. He thinks he’s not good with people; he dislikes not being louder, more charismatic, and interested in details like ‘Oooh, why are Mark and Pete getting divorced?’
Instead, he likes to hypothesize and spend hours in a deep, meaningful conversation.
We’ll often pause a film three-minutes-in to discuss a random comment one of the characters made, and lose ourselves in the depths of a 45-minute tangent (after which I usually go to bed and leave him to cackle at Family Guy).
It annoys me that he’s often the butt of family jokes for not being more of a ‘go-getter’. He’s often critiqued for being lazy when in reality he’s just reserved. People don’t know what he’s doing because he doesn’t talk about himself.
But he’s not behind. Not at all. Quite the contrary actually. He’s very much ahead. Come to him for advice, for guidance, or reassurance, and you’ll see; it’s impossible to miss.
I’m not talking financially, or career-wise. I’m talking about the things that truly matter, on an intrinsic level. He’s happy, he’s at peace. And according to psychologist, Professor Matthias Mehl, this makes a lot of sense.
Happy People Have More Meaningful Conversations
Introverts are generally not big fans of small talk. Like my brother, they like to speak less and say more.
Mehl and his team study happiness and its relationship with deep talk. In one study, he recorded the conversations a group of students had throughout the day and found that the happiest person had twice as many substantive conversations and only one-third the amount of small talk, as the unhappiest person. Around 46% of the conversations that person had were considered substantive, whereas the same was true for only 22% of the unhappiest person’s conversations.
Admittedly, further research is welcome. But in an interview with the New York Times, Mehl explained that he believes meaningful conversations are linked to happiness because they provide humans with a way to create meaning in their lives and truly connect with others, both of which are important human needs.
The relationship between meaning and happiness is so strong that some even question whether there’s a difference. Objectively, they’re two different things, but is our individual perception of happiness different from our subjective perception of meaning? Regardless, both are things we, as humans, strive for. We all want to live happy, meaningful lives.
In turn, the data shows that individuals who report higher meaning in life have a lower risk of divorce, lower risk of living alone, have stronger connections with friends and are at lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases and depression. They also are more likely to adopt positive health behaviors, like exercising and eating a healthy diet.
Meaningful conversations improve your overall happiness, your sense of meaning for life, and strengthen your relationships. All of which in turn improve your health.
Something Michael Thompson wrote in a recent article really resonated with me. He explains how our “Rise and Grind” culture generally favors people with a “Hustle Hard” mentality. People who build a wide web of (often superficial) connections to get ahead in their career.
Those who don’t, like my brother, are ‘left behind’, feeling unwelcome to the party, made to feel like they’re doing something wrong.
I am one of those people who feared ‘missing out’. One of my biggest fears is probably feeling as though I’m being ‘left-behind’. I’m much more insecure, and anxious than my brother. And for years, I have worked to connect with others, including throughout my career.
Now, I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s intrinsically the best thing.
Connections are important. But it’s the right ones that count.
When it comes to living a happy, healthy life, full of meaningful relationships, walking a mile in an introvert’s shoes could lead you down a better path.
Next time you reach out to connect with someone online, why not read something they’ve published, or watch a speech they’ve given? Get a feel for who they are, so you can ask meaningful questions, maybe even find a real connection.
Next time you’re in a meeting, at a conference, or perhaps even a dinner party, sit back and listen.
Look to find the introvert, awkwardly sat smiling across from you at the table. Nod your head slightly as though to ask, ‘how are you?’. Hope they nod back and as though to say ‘fine’.
Maybe ask them what they think. Listen closely before you respond. It might just be the start of a deep, meaningful conversation.