Go on—call a friend. Photo: We Are, Getty
What do people who want to be millionaires and people who want to be just a little bit happier have in common?They can both call a friend.A new study published in Communication Research sought to find out what types of conversations people need to have, and how often they should have them, in order to improve their well-being. The researchers found that having at least one conversation with a friend can increase happiness and lower stress levels by the end of each day.
“While other research on well-being focuses on things like grateful thoughts or journaling, my focus as a researcher is about what we can do in our interactions to improve our well-being. This gives us a valuable list of things people can do to improve their days,” Jeffrey Hall, one of the researchers, told VICE.Previous research showed that talking about one’s problems can reduce stress, strengthen our immune system, and reduce physical and emotional distress, but this study suggests that people don’t necessarily need to bond over their misery. Hall and his team identified seven types of communication that are commonly found in social interactions: catching up, meaningful talk, joking around, showing care, listening, valuing others and their opinions, and offering sincere compliments.The researchers recruited over 900 participants and instructed each to engage in any one of the seven types of communication on a given day. Some participants performed the tasks through online messages or phone calls, but most performed them in person. At the end of the day, the participants reported how good or bad they felt, as measured by feelings of things like stress, connection, anxiety, well-being, and loneliness.Results showed that engaging in any of the seven communication types at least once a day was enough to improve people’s well-being. In particular, it increased feelings of connection and decreased stress.
“This means the more that you listened to your friends, the more that you showed care, the more that you took time to value others’ opinions, the better you felt at the end of the day,” Hall told the University of Kansas.While one conversation was good enough to increase well-being, there are ways to make people feel even better—participants who had more than one quality conversation with friends reported better days. Conversations had in-person were also more closely associated with well-being than digital contact. “The results demonstrate that while engaging in these episodes and behaviors to any extent is beneficial, engaging in them more frequently and face-to-face are independently beneficial,” wrote the researchers.A previous study by Hall suggests that phone calls are as good as in-person interactions in most cases. In this study, however, Hall said texts, DMs, and other social media contact were less beneficial for daily well-being. They’re simply not a substitute for quality, in-person communication. But that doesn’t mean you should stop hitting send.“The big caveat is that texting/DM is better than nothing. If the choice is being alone or having a back-and-forth text exchange, texting is better, especially when people are feeling most alone,” said Hall.For Hall, an important takeaway from the study is that people need to be more intentional in maintaining their relationships.“Friendship is important. Friendship takes work. Friendships don’t just happen—you have to be intentional,” Hall said. Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.