From a recent New York Times article, Talk Deeply, Be Happy?: “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.”
It’s about time the larger world became aware of what I’ve known for years, which is that small talk is for small minds. It’s why I’ve always made a point of making sure that others know how spiritually fulfilled I am by essentially forcing as many persons a day as I can into having conversations that, being less enlightened than I, they would no doubt prefer to have with their pastor or psychiatrist.
Losers! I refuse to enable such insular coddling. If it’s worth lying awake at nights worrying about, it’s worth bringing up to a stranger in a supermarket. That’s my motto. Just yesterday at a Starbucks, for instance, I turned to the lady behind me in line, and with forthright candor said, “Being here is like waiting to die, is it not? It takes longer than you think it’s going to, and though you hope you’ll get what you want, you don’t really know what you’ll end up with. But you do hope it won’t be too hot. Think about it.”
I then faced front again, secure in the knowledge that I’d just vastly improved the woman’s life. She might not have realized I’d done that; judging from what I could overhear her murmuring to the woman behind her, she didn’t. But later, I know, the full impact of my words sunk into mind and soul like a bowling ball dropped into the ocean. There’s no doubt but that at some point in her day, she reflected back upon my wise, perspective-altering utterance and wondered, with the inevitable envy, about the secret to my great and profuse happiness.
But will she see that the answer to her question lies in the question itself?
“Do you know why you’re not happier?” I recently said to my mailman. It was the first time we’d ever spoken. “Because you don’t ask people questions like the one I just asked you. Think about it.” And with just that bit of wisdom I so rocked his world that three times since then he’s accidentally dropped my mail in the bushes outside my gate. It’s because he can’t concentrate on his work. He’s too preoccupied with what he can do to to secure for himself the happiness he so trenchantly saw demonstrated in me.
“You’re experiencing futility,” says my outgoing phone message. “But at least you’re alive—for now. Leave a message that shows you’re living, not just surviving.” It’s amazing how many people are so moved by that unexpected call to their higher selves that they can do naught but silently hang-up and immediately begin reverentially contemplating my happiness.
It’s almost a burden, this knowledge I have of exemplifying joy through the refusal to engage in mindless small talk. Do I ever waver in my mission? Sure I do. Sometimes I, too, would like to discuss the weather, or whether or not Glenn Beck inherited the mental deficiency evidenced by one or both of his parents apparently being unable to spell “Glen.”
But do I give in? No. Why? Because if I were to let down my guard, and allow myself to engage in the kind of casual socializing favored by the great multitudes who ask no more of their fleeting encounters than that they leave the parties involved feeling satisfied and affirmed, then I know that I would have no one but myself to blame for what I have every last reason to fear would happen next.