Finding Joy in Conversation

I traveled to Sequoia National Park in California, USA to camp under the canopy of the giant Sequoias and redwood trees. I was seeking enjoyment in a peaceful environment, and though I found the experience satisfying, my true enjoyment came through the conversations with the friends with me.

This realization brought me back to where do people find joy? Yes, the camping experience was enjoyable, but my conversations with a Rotarian from my club and his family at their campsite that really was the highlight to that enjoyment.

I started wondering about how my interactions with people can fill my spirit with so much joy as I hiked back to my own campsite. I was reminded of a Robert Heinlein novel where the character and a companion constantly transported to different times and places putting them positions where they must learn to survive and the two were always together talking. I remember one line that the main character said that has always stuck with me years later. He said he didn’t care where or what he was doing in his life — he would wash dishes for eternity — as long as his companion was there by his side. He felt just enjoyment in her present and conversation.

I wondered about conversation and companionship back at my own camp sitting alone next to a warm campfire with the scent of forest pine and campfire smoke heavy in the air. I marveled at all the towering sequoias around me and listened to the silence, but there was a hollowness in the silence. I had my book, food, fire, and solitude, but no joy — peace, yes, but no joy.

Near my campsite.

The Sequoia trees around me, majestic, towering and massive, look so independent, but according to the latest research, even trees communicate connecting root systems and working together to their help their genus survive. One study in British Columbia found on tree connected to 48 others nearby.

It turns out there is compelling evidence to proves the link between more frequent and deeper social interactions and my well-being — which I relate to joy. According to the findings reported by three researchers from the University of Davis in California, USA and the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. In a report titled Is Well-Being Associated with the Quantity and Quality of Social Interactions? researchers Jessie Sun, Kelci Harris, and Simine Vazire explore the elements that what makes people feel good in people interaction and does quiet time or social time have more benefit. Researchers explored people interactions on different levels and found a person’s well being was raised on almost all social interactions, even the “cocktail conversations,” what I call fake conversations. The researchers also found even introverts that dislike large gatherings still felt a higher well being after these gatherings.

“Avoid trifling conversation.”

Benjamin Franklin from the “Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”

I need to connect more to people.

I wondered about which conversations brought me the most enjoyment in life. I know it’s different for everyone, but that day in the Sequoias sitting around a campfire drinking beer, the conversations filled my enjoyment “bucket.” I decided I needed to improve my conversation skills, to step out of my comfort zone more and risk words that flowed off my tongue — which can be dangerous as my mouth usually usually gets ahead of my brain and I don’t realize that until my wife points it out to me later. She’s saved with thinking things through before actually putting voice to words . . . maybe woman are blessed that way.

I researched online to find better ways to communicate without making a fool of myself, and I read through articles titled “78 Deep Conversation Topics” or “15 Questions That Are a Better Way Than ‘What Do You Do?'” or “20 Questions to Ignite Meaningful Conversations.” The list of stories on this topic is endless. Most of the topics suggested in these pieces made me feel like was interviewing someone on stage at a Ms. America or Ms. World competition. Who talks like that?

I decided for myself conversation must be a topic where I can connect with others and that connection can run the gamut from jobs, careers, families, loves, health, hobbies, experiences, and then deepen the conversation to more personal stuff, but that’s only the start. There still has to feel like a true connection and not a forced connection.

It helps to add a dash of humor, but I’m out of luck in that skill: I’m not funny. The only time people laugh at something I say is when I’m trying to be serious, and as they sit giggling at my candor,  I say in all honesty, “I’m serious” and they laugh even more.  

“Confidence does more to make conversation than wit.”

La Rochefoucauld

Where do I find such people?

I realize I don’t have to travel to find these conversations. I would be just going about my routine day and the right person with the right conversation can lift my spirits. I need more of these people in my life; I need to encourage these conversations. I need to have courage to find these people to have these conversations.

Personally, I start with people I already know as acquaintances. I push myself to offer more conversation at a deeper level and see how people respond. I make the first move in talking about values, or hobbies, or enjoyable activities. I step out of my routine, fake, or “cocktail” conversation mode. I take chances. Some people just nod their heads, but sometimes I hit a spark of excitement in them and I attempt to feed that enthusiasm with my own. I might find a person who has similar values, interests, and quirks or I might not.

Are the people I interact with happy people?

One study found that a person’s happiness depends on the happiness of people they connect with. I believe it. One of my best friends, who recently passed away, was someone who always had a smile on his face when we talked. It was a genuine friendly smile. He enjoyed his life and shared his time in service to others. The funny quirk was we had opposite views on politics but that didn’t matter. We laughed and joked about it. Our conversations were always uplifting, genuine, and engaging. It didn’t matter where we were or what we were doing. He was always joyous and I always came away from our conversations uplifted.

Happiness can be infectious and lift my spirit while moody people suck my soul. Their body language and conversation say depressing emotions. They don’t purposely do that. It’s just their personality. Some people love to be moody and no matter how much sunshine I try to bring to the environment they are like a black hole sucking it all up.

I need to distance myself from these environments. To me they can have tendencies of letting me do all the talking, They can be sarcastic, negative, mistake catchers, talk negatively about others behind their backs yet still maintain a fake smile in fake conversations. Yuck! Sadly, Facebook has become a Black Hole in my life.

Despite the “black holes” in life, I need to explore the human spirits that surround me. There are many “shining stars” in my community and stepping out my door to experience these people will take a little courage on my part. I need to put myself out there in conversation and activity. I need to make sure I’m not a “black hole” sucking peoples’ energy. I need to seek out new and old acquaintances to find my people that “get me.” I need to learn better conversation techniques.

Okay, it might feel a bit nerdy to study how to have meaningful conversations, but my parents, teachers and mentors never really taught me how to have a great conversation, and the people around me were not the best role models, anyway. So, I researched online different articles about conversation. There were some surprisingly simple steps I could do to improve my conversations without being fake. I found these articles interesting:

Wellness article “8 Ways to Make Meaningful Small Talk”

Fast Company’s “5 Ways to Have Great Conversations”

Life Hack “How to Create More Meaningful Conversations”

I will practice and purposefully expand my contacts of meaningful-conversation at least once a week. I will avoid being a “black hole” myself to other people and find even a glimmer of optimism in the present moment.

“Talk about Feelings Not Facts, the only real conduit to deeper conversations.”

The School of Life

I will make mistakes, and that’s okay. In the long run I know I will succeed, and I might experience joys I never thought possible at the most unusual time and in a most unusual place with people I never would have met had I not risked a deep meaningful conversation.

I will try.

Peace, Joy, Love

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