THE JOY OF MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION

Balch Park, near Sequoia National Park

I camped at Balch Park near Sequoia National Park in California, USA to rest my weary self under the canopy of the giant sequoias and redwood trees. I was seeking enjoyment in a peaceful environment away from the busyness and traffic of life. I thought nothing could bring me greater joy than to experience the forests, lakes, and mountains. . . I was wrong. 

My friend Steve had invited me to join him and his family on a camping trip. I loved the idea,  accepted his invitation, and drove up the mountain to the most enchanted campground I’d ever seen.  It was breathtaking scenery of lush evergreens and giant conifers, the kind of images I might see in a magazine or a movie.  

Just sitting on the tailgate of my truck, I let the forest sights, sounds, and smells come to me. 

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

Enjoyable, yes, but then I walked down to Steve’s campsite and fell into conversation with my friend, his son, and his granddaughter. Suddenly, my enjoyment elevated to an entirely higher level. Our talk, punctuated with boisterous laughter and entertaining words overflowed my “enjoyment bucket.”

When I finally hiked back to my campsite that evening,  I thought why did I feel so happy? What brought on so much joy?  Surely, I thought the forest setting would, and it did, but not as satisfying as the conversation with my friend and his family.  I observed other campsites on the way back. All of them filled with people around a campfire, all involved in the conversation, or games, or eating, and I could sense their enjoyment. 

I had to admit to myself that as perfect as this camping experience was, my truest enjoyment came through the conversations with the people around me.  

I pondered this back at my camp sitting alone stirring my campfire, millions of stars overhead, the scent of forest pine and campfire smoke heavy in the air.  Yes, the camping experience and environment were enjoyable, but my conversations with Steve and his family at their campsite were the highlight of that enjoyment. 

I looked at the now darkened sequoias around me and listened to the silence, but there was a hollowness in the silence. I had my book, food, fire, and solitude and these brought me peace, yes, but joy? 

The sequoia trees around me, majestic, towering, and massive, looked so independent, but even they are connected to one another.  According to the latest research,  trees communicate connecting root systems and working together to help their genus survive.   One study in British Columbia found one tree connected to 48 others nearby. 

For humans, it turns out there is compelling evidence that proves the link between more frequent and deeper social interactions and a person’s well-being. In a  study done by the University of Davis in California, USA, and the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, researchers Jessie Sun, Kelci Harris, and Simine Vazire explored the elements of what makes people feel good:  people interaction or solitude and does quiet time or social time have more benefit. 

In a report titled Is Well-Being Associated with the Quantity and Quality of Social Interactions? Researchers explored people’s interactions on different levels and found a person’s well-being was raised on almost all social interactions, even the fake conversations, had some benefit.  The researchers also found even introverts that dislike large gatherings still felt a higher well being after these gatherings. 

From the research and my own experience, I realized I needed to connect more to people. I wondered about which conversations brought me the most enjoyment in life.  

I decided to improve my conversation skills, to step out of my comfort zone and risk words that flowed off my tongue — which can be dangerous as my mouth usually gets ahead of my brain and I don’t realize that until I get home and my wife points it out to me later what I said. She can think things through before actually putting voice to words . . . maybe women are blessed that way.   

I’m not, so 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 articles on this topic is endless.  Most of the suggestions in these articles seemed more appropriate for interviewing someone on stage at a Ms. America or Ms. World competition. Questions like “What does your joy look like today?” or  “What is important enough to go to war over?” or “What do you do over and over again that you hate doing?”   The questions left me wondering: Who talks like that? 

I decided my conversations 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, of course, Rotary, then I can deepen the conversation to more personal, honest feeling about “stuff,” but that’s only the start.  I still have to feel a true connection and not a forced connection and that takes time and effort on my part.

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 there giggling at my candor,  I say in all honesty, “I’m serious” and they laugh even more.  

One study found that a person’s happiness depends on the happiness of people they connect with. Happiness can be infectious and lift my spirit while moody people can drag me down. So, while people might inadvertently laugh at something I say maybe that’s okay. I would rather that happen then to walk around so guarded that others feel guarded, as well, and then the whole point of trying to find meaningful conversations is lost. That’s a decision I can make to be uplifting and positive and open . . . but not try to be funny. 

Yet, I need to make sure I don’t take myself too seriously.  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 I never really learned how to have a great conversation. 

So, I will continue to research books and articles about the art conversation. I will practice and purposefully expand my contacts and experience at least once a week. 

Where do I find such people? I realize I don’t have to travel to exotic places to find great conversations. I can reach out more at my own Rotary meeting. I can say more than “Hi” to people I see on my neighborhood walks or at the grocery store, or outing or even in my own home with my wife. . . hey, there’s a novel idea: deeper conversations with my wife. 

It takes a little risk (even with my wife): a risk to encourage conversation, a risk to approach people to offer more conversation at a deeper level and to see how people respond.  I can make the first move beyond statements like  “Nice weather” or “How are you doing?” or “How’s work?

In the long run, I know I will succeed, and I might experience joys and connections I never thought possible like the ones with my friend Steve and his family. 

“The Joy in  Meaningful Conversation”, pg. 6

It might come at the most unusual or common time and in a most unusual or commonplace with people I never thought I would connect. 

It doesn’t take a sublime setting like Sequoia National Park to find joy in a conversation. 

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