Stay in touch: Just one conversation with a friend each day boosts well-being

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Despite our smartphones almost never leaving our side, tons of people bemoan how hard it is to stay in touch with old friends and loved ones. However, new findings by a team at the University of Kansas are serving as a reminder to many that a little bit of social interaction — not on social media — can go a long way in terms of promoting a happier state of mind and sense of well-being. Researchers report that talking with a friend just once during the day can both increase feelings of happiness and lower stress levels by the day’s end.

They add that these chats can range from catching up or joking around to simply letting someone know they were on your mind.

“This paper was an attempt to define quality communication in the context of relationships,” says University of Kansas Professor of Communication Studies and friendship expert Jeffrey Hall in a university release. “The types of communication we chose to study were ones shown in past research to make people feel more bonded through conversation.”

The research team focused on several varieties of communication:

This project gathered insight from and further supports Prof. Hall’s Communicate Bond Belong (CBB) theory of relationships. Hall is also the director of KU’s Relationships and Technology Lab.

Over 900 participants across five university campuses took part in this study — before, during, and after pandemic lockdowns. The volunteers had to engage in one of the seven communication behaviors on a single day, and then report back that same night regarding any feelings of stress, connection, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, and the overall quality of their day. Interestingly, Hall explains, it didn’t really matter which of the conversations someone engaged in. The simple act of intentionally reaching out to a friend in one of these ways appears to be what mattered most.

“One of the take-home messages of this study is that there are many paths toward the same goal,” the study co-author notes.

What’s better for well-being? Quantity or quality?

“There’s a lot of good research that says the number of interactions you have as well as the quality of interactions are both associated with being a less lonely, happier and more connected person,” Hall continues.

While the project did find that just one conversation is enough to promote well-being, it’s vital to mention that more is better. Participants who had more quality conversations had better days.

“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,” Prof. Hall comments.

“The experimental design means that it’s not just people who are already having fulfilling lives who have higher-quality conversations,” Hall adds. “This study suggests that anyone who makes time for high-quality conversation can improve their well-being. We can change how we feel on any given day through communication. Just once is all it takes.”

Crucially, the research also indicates that high quality face-to-face communication has a closer relationship to well-being than electronic or social media contact.

“If at least one of their quality conversations was face-to-face, that mattered,” the researcher reports.

So, why exactly does quality communication make people feel better?

CBB theory suggests that people use conversations with friends to help obtain a sense of belonging.

“Across these three studies, quality conversation mattered most for connection and stress,” Prof. Hall concludes. “This supports the idea that we use communication to get our need to belong met, and, in doing so, it helps us manage our stress.”

All in all, Prof. Hall says this work just goes to show there are numerous benefits tied to just one good conversation with a friend. Finding a few moments for quality conversations on a daily basis can help improve our days.

The study is published in the journal Communication Research.

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