Happy Talk

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
Philippians 4:8

Point to Ponder:
Do your words tell the story of who you are and how you view life?

Action Item:
Choose a word to eliminate from and/or add to your vocabulary to better portray who you are and how you view life.

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

A few days ago, I read an article in SUCCESS Magazine titled “Happy Talk.” The author Patty Onderko, a busy mom who writes from her home in Brooklyn, NY, instantly grabbed my attention with her subtitle: “Why you should–like the song from South Pacific–“keep talk’in’ happy talk.” As I’d hoped, the article was thought provoking, research based and made the important connection between the words we speak and the effects they can have on our overall health and well-being. Clearly, it was “iGnite material” so I thought I would share it with you.  So even if you don’t use social media (which is referenced in the article), I encourage you to read it anyway, as it’s a good reminder that the words we speak about ourselves, as well as how we speak about others and life in general, are either working for us or against us:

You got to the town parade on Sunday and want to share your weekend adventure on Facebook. Which of the following is more likely to be your status update?

A. “I’m loving the marching bands! So blessed to live in this wonderful town!”
or….
B. “Drinking a bottle of beer at the parade. I hate bagpipes!”

It’s no surprise that different people can have vastly different experiences at the same event; or that people who are negative pick up on the downsides, and vice versa. But recent research suggests you pin down someone’s personality traits–and how positive they are–by the words they use on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Psychologists from the World Well-Being Project (WWBP), part of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, examined 700 millions words, phrases and topics in status updates from 70,000-plus willing Facebook users who also completed a personality test. Participants’ personality traits were plotted on the five-factor model, or Big Five, which measures levels of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism/emotional stability and openness to experience/intellect. Using computational linguistics, these traits were then matched with distinguishing words and phrases that can effectively predict personality–and hopefully, levels of overall well-being.

Past studies have highlighted the connection between language, personality and health outcomes. Facebook and the like, however, offer a new playing field for computational linguistics. “Before social media, we didn’t have the data size to fully leverage language associated with people in a data-driven fashion,” says H. Andrew Schwartz, lead research scientist at the WWBP. “There are so many words in our vocabulary that it really takes an enormous database to find statistically meaningful patterns.”

The goal, ultimately, is to track the psychological and physical well-being of humans through their language. “Behavior, psychological states and traits, and health manifest themselves so well in language” Schwartz says. Do people whose social media utterances reflect their emotional stability live longer? Are they healthier? Happier? That remains to be seen, and it’s what’s next for WWBP, headed by the famed positive psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D, from the University of Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, the “meaningful patterns” that they found can help you convey a more positive online image and possibly boost your outlook.

1) Count your blessings. Did you pick “A”, the first Facebook status? According to your word choices, you are highly agreeable (meaning cooperative, trusting, modest and altruistic), conscientious (thorough, careful, efficient, organized) and emotionally stable. Blessed in the hallmark for all three traits. You’re also likely to be quite extroverted, with most forms of the word love being strongly associated with the trait.

Even if some things about the parade bugged you, choosing to talk about the positive parts can not only alter people’s perception of you, but also your own perception of your experiences, says Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA., and author of Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. He subscribes to the theory that language dictates consciousness. In other words, the more you mention things you like, the more likely you are to focus on those things and find them in your future, which is why, regardless of your religion, the quote from Philippians is good advice.

2) Recognize your themes. Is the second Facebook status more your style? If so, you are probably more extroverted than introverted, Schwartz says. While you may not have loved the parade, the fact that you mentioned a social, community event is evidence enough, according to his research. Introverts don’t write about parties, sports or parades. While you may be extroverted, though, you may not be particularly agreeable. More than that, though, Kashdan advises being aware of what we regularly mention: “The real patterns are seen overtime. The themes you talk and write about most often become your life narrative. If someone were to write a biography of you based on what you talk and write about, would you like it? Would it be accurate? If not, change the way you communicate.

3) Avoid absolutes. Those inthe “B” camp might also score low on emotional stability. Emotionally unstable folk tend to swear and complain more, using phrases such as “I hate”, “so annoying,” “tired of’,” fed up,” and “for once.” Absolute statements such as “I hate bagpipes” or “I am terrible at math” are language traps, Kashdan says. The more you connect the words terrible and math in your conversation, the more wired together the ideas become in your brain. While you may have trouble understanding complex algorithms, you can probably manage your personal budget. But your verbal absolutism may convince you otherwise over time, and your language can have real-life consequences: You begin to believe your repeated “bad-at-math” slogan and avoid balancing your checkbook, leading to late payments or overdrafts.

4) Be inspired. Other words that positive, open, emotionally stable people use are: universe, dream, music, writing, and books. So if you heard about a great band recently, why not share it and talk about it? Talking about new things (if, say, you always post about your kids or your business) opens up your world to expand your opportunities, Kashdan says.

As for new things, talking about new things is great, but doing new things is even better! And so, during the month of July (only one week away) and in the spirit of summer, we will be encouraging you to shake things up and suggesting new things for you to try in iGnite and around the city. After all, and as the article says, “new things open up your world.”

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3 thoughts on “Happy Talk

  1. Pingback: Speak Life | the iGnite blog

  2. Pingback: What If vs. What Is? | the iGnite blog

  3. Pingback: 3 Ways to Replace Complaining with Gratitude | the iGnite blog

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