Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Meaningful Conversation a Measure of Happiness?

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

I have had a bit of writers block, but in my prayer time this morning the log jam in my mind was broken. 

It seems to me that one thing that most people long for is an authentic relationship.  And yet it also seems that it is the one thing that is lacking in nearly everyone's life.  Why?  Well the answer to that is about as diverse as the people that long for them.  Broken trust, past trauma, unmet expectations, living in a fallen world, perfectionism, fear, awkwardness, social degradation, unhealthy messages from past, self-doubt, rebellion, neglect, and on and on all wage an assault on authentic relationships.  If we are honest this assault comes from within as much as it comes from the outside.  When relationships lack authenticity then meaningful conversation is first to go. 

Recently there was a study about having a substantive conversation with others (see article here).  In this study they found that those that had more substantive conversations were generally more happy than those that engaged in small talk.  Interestingly the strongest correlation with lower scores of happiness was being alone (see actual study here).  So being alone in this study is the best predictor of low scores on well-being, next was small talk which was not an effective predictor, but correlated with lower scores on well-being, then substantive conversations was a predictor of of higher scores on well-being.  And the strongest predictor of well-being was being able to talk to others generally (whether or not the conversation was substantive). 

If talk is a measure of authentic relationships (which seems reasonable to me) this study seems to confirm my belief that people are seeking and longing for authentic relationships.  And it would also seem that either people who have a higher sense of well-being seek out more meaningful conversation and/or people who engage in meaningful conversation are generally happier people.  If I had to guess I would say it is probably a little of both. 

Interestingly Jesus offers the opportunity to enter into authentic relationship with Him and in turn with others.  However, I do not see these types of relationships by in large in the church nor in Christian families.  It is possible that I am biased in the fact that I am a counselor and generally I get the darker side of life by virtue of that profession.  However even as I look to relationships outside of my job I discover that rarely is anything ever as it seems.  That underlying most relationships is a longing for authentic relationship.  I am not jaded.  I have seen these relationships, but my gut tells me they are in the minority. 

My wife is one of the authentic relationships.  She knows me better than any person has my whole life.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Yet she accepts me.  That is a precious gift.  Don't get me wrong there is still plenty that I do that gets on her nerves (sometimes I wonder how she does it), but she stays with me and loves me.  Yet even in this relationship, when she or I stop engaging in meaningful conversation, I think my experience is consistent with the study in that my sense of well-being goes down.  I also can say that being alone without my wife around is a time when my well-being is the lowest.  Sorry babe you cannot take that trip out of town with the women (just kidding).

Jesus is one of those relationships where I have experienced authenticity.  Before Him there is nothing hidden (even when I would have them hidden they are not).  So openness is a foregone conclusion.  Yet even in this relationship can lack authenticity.  My own shortcomings can stand in the way.  Not because Jesus, but because of my own pride and/or my own shame.  Either or both of these will become a barrier to authentic relationship with Christ.  Interestingly this same concept of meaningful conversation comes into play.  I notice a correlation to my sense of well being and reading my Bible (the way that Jesus speaks to me) and Prayer (the way that I speak to Jesus and the Holy Spirit leads my heart). 

Where are you at?  Is your relationship with Jesus Authentic?  Do you have a relationship with Christ?  If you do then are you talking with Him through prayer and Bible reading? 

How about your other relationships?  Do you have people that you engage in meaningful conversation with?  If not what is standing in the way?  If it is a confidence thing what are you willing to do to restore that confidence?  What changes are you willing to make to have and be an in authentic relationship?

Blessing to you all! 

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