At first glance, small talk is sort of unquestionably terrible. Even if you can’t wait to meet new people, who wants to talk about the weather?
But linguists and social scientists say small talk is no small thing: It’s not what you’re saying that matters, but the social function it serves.
And it doesn’t just make parties way less awkward — it could actually make you happier. Dr. Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Essex, noticed that “just saying hi to the lady at the hot dog stand” gave her a bounce in her step. She asked people to count their social interactions for six days and found that those who had more daily interaction with acquaintances were happier.
Lisa Tolin is a journalist and Special Projects Editor at NBC News.