Part 1 ½: How to Have an Interesting Conversation (Sex, Drugs, &...Conversation?)
It's Good For...Just About Everything
Harvard research and other (not quite as impressive sounding) studies tell us that face-to-face conversation has the same physical and emotional benefits as sex, cocaine, and good food. What, you ask?! Yes, it's true.
Now consider all the data and scientific studies (including from Harvard) that tell us our obsession and never-ending scrolling through social media feeds are making us more depressed.
If these are both true, then WHY aren't we ditching our newsfeeds for more conversations in our lives? Why do we find ourselves avoiding human contact and instead sit glued to our phones when there are so many benefits to talking to someone?
This isn’t really surprising, is it? After all, we still eat food that’s not really great for us instead of opting for the healthier option. People still smoke despite the huge warning labels plastered all over the box. We choose not to work out when we know it's linked to a longer, healthier life. But what if those veggies tasted like prime rib? What if conversation was easy and felt like sitting down to our favorite meals?
That’s what smart people in white lab coats (and our bodies) are trying to tell us: conversation is the prime rib without any fat or cholesterol!
It Can Get Hard
For those of us who've had a really interesting conversation that sticks in our memory for life, we intuitively understand what this research is telling us. We know what kind of impact human interaction can have on us over the long term.
The problem is this: it’s REALLY, REALLY hard to find those interesting conversations.
It’s hard to reach out to other people, particularly strangers. Even in easier scenarios like chatting with someone at a mixer or happy hour, we often feel uncomfortable (check out Part I in the series for more on how to turn this into a great experience).
So the point here is figuring out how we can follow the advice of the scientists and have conversations that feel as good as the best feelings we have in life. How can we do that, you ask? There are plenty of ways, but let’s start with the science to explain how talking to another person can be so good for us physically and mentally.
It’s Stimulating...For Your Brain
Harvard found that when people talk about themselves, there was increased activity in three neural regions of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens, and the ventral tegmental area. Now, I don’t really know what that means in English, but those last two regions of the brain (as it turns out) are also the ones that light up during sex and when you’re eating great food, so this sounds important.
Specifically, and according to men in white lab coats, we get these positive feelings when we talk about ourselves. Turns out this is one of the reasons we love posting to social media; it's all about us. In fact, 80% of our posts are about ourselves. These fleeting moments and posts aren't as good for us though, because it's a short burst of feeling as opposed to a sustained infusion of goodness.
But, if you're like me, you’re probably asking...'does it matter if we’re talking about ourselves to someone else OR COULD WE get the same benefits from just talking about ourselves without anyone around (if a tree falls in the woods…)?' It turns out we get pleasure from both situations, BUT the best feelings come from talking to someone else.
Taking Care of Yourself
Are we really surprised to hear that sitting down and talking about ourselves to other people produces a positive health response? We shouldn't be. After all, isn’t that why we pay to talk to medical professionals for hours about nothing but ourselves?
In regular conversation, we spend 60% of the time talking about Numero Uno. If you can sit and talk to a psychologist about yourself for 100% of the time, you’ve essentially maximized the return. But it can cost more than we’d like to have a session with a doctor and we’re not really sharing an interesting experience with someone else. This doctor-patient model is valuable for those wrestling with issues, but it isn’t exactly perfect for those who just want the positive effects of a conversation.
Release that Stress
Science tells us that conversation also reduces stress. During another study, we learned that just verbalizing feelings - both positive AND negative - makes those feelings less intense. Scientists literally watched the brains of people as they had these experiences and were able to see what happened.
Subjects of the study were then asked how they felt and, no surprise, they felt better after talking about these feelings. Again, no surprise here because their brains already told the testers this was the case.
Basically, by having a conversation with another person, you’re going to help BOTH yourself AND your friend by talking about what’s going on, particularly if you’re down or depressed.
Reminisce & Stay Sharp
By talking to others about the past, we also improve the way our minds process information and strengthen our memories. We can all appreciate how it feels when we share a story about our past like an experience from childhood, a place we visited and can’t forget, meeting someone important in our lives, or a book that changed the way we see the world. We feel so much better.
By explaining these past experiences, we can also better understand how we got to where we are today and see the steps along that path to make more informed decisions in the future. This is really helpful for most people intrinsically but a great side effect is that this reminiscing or nostalgia lights up parts of the brain that typically sit idle, making our minds a little stronger and a bit sharper as we age. It's like working out those muscles that don't get much love normally but can help us live longer with some periodic activity.
What about deeper conversations? If we go deeper, do we feel better? Great question. According to science, the deeper the conversations we have and the more of them we can squeeze in, the happier we feel. This doesn’t mean every conversation has to be a deep and meaningful one, but when you do get to those special discussions, they’re a serious boost to your psyche. We all, of course, know this if we've really had one of these encounters. Not everyone is so lucky though.
These conversations also slow the aging effect on our cognitive abilities. Basically, the more social activity we have (outside of our phones), the slower our brains descend into mush (that’s not exactly the scientific way of saying it but I think you get the meaning).
Back to Square One...
So are we back to where we started? If having conversations is BETTER for us, WHY don’t we have them more often?
This really is the NEVER ENDING QUESTION. We can't seem to figure it out.
There are some options out there. You can, of course, pay a psychiatrist to listen to your thoughts (not ideal or affordable for those without a mental health concern) or you can sign up for a service where you call and talk to someone for a fee (yes, these actually exist), or you could look for opportunities like Free Intelligent Conversation where you can go talk to a real person (if they happen to be in your town that day) or you could go talk to a complete stranger (that's really hard though...tune in for tips on this scenario next time).
What if we ACTUALLY solved this problem? What would that look like?
What if we actually used technology to bring us to these great conversations? We already have a million options if you're looking for a significant other. There's no end to the number of dating apps available.
But what about something for the rest of us?
What if an app could find people nearby who are interested in the same things as us? What if an app connected us with those people in real life and we put our phones down to talk (and feel better)?
This is exactly what we did. Convers8 let's us find a conversation right now just outside our door.
Try Convers8 today.