"Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier," Deborah Tannen, New York Times, Oct. 25, 2010
Reading Deborah Tannen's essay about why chatting with sisters makes us happier put a big smile on my face. Tannen gets it. It's not what we talk about that makes us happier--it's that we talk--about anything--including daily minutiae that no one else could possibly care about.
As I was brushing my teeth yesterday morning I heard my cellphone go off in my purse downstairs. I figured it was my sister. Who else calls so early in the morning?
I called her back as soon as I could. I always do. And she does the same for me. We know each other's schedules. On the way to work--on the way home--while we get dinner on the table--that's the best time to chat.
She had good news. Classical Cookies (the cookie business she started with her good friend) had won THE Best Chocolate Cookie at the Cincinnati Chocolate Festival--as judged by five foodie experts. And of course, she shared all the details she could fit in--before work began.
Too bad my sis and I live in different cities. We don't get to see each other as often as we'd like, but we talk a lot. And often, it's about nothing special.
- What we're making for dinner.
- What we're doing right now or this weekend.
- A horrible colonscopy prep.
- An interview on Diane Rehm's show that brought tears to our eyes. We both like stuff that makes us cry. Or something heard on The Splendid Table.
- Advice about the right dress to wear to an afternoon wedding. What does dressy casual mean?
- The fabulous vegan cooking website my sister just discovered. Chef Chloe's Blog
- Funeral etiquette. Is is OK to just make a condolence call in the evening, or should I really take off of work to attend the funeral of my friend's mother-in-law?
- Urgent calls from the grocery store: what's the name of that spice, cocoa, chia seed, or fill-in-the-blank-food you like so well?
- Can I cook a turkey ahead of time for Thanksgiving, slice it up & put it in the freezer, or is that a really dumb idea?
- Where can I find capris that don't cost a lot & won't make my butt look so big?
- Relatives we're concerned about. And of course, the catch-up on our kids, our husbands, our friends.
- Politics & religion.
And, yes, there's serious stuff, too.
We're each other's reality check and sounding board. WW(MS)D? What would (my sister) do? We pretty much know we'll get an honest answer.
- Am I being overly-sensitive or not? About something someone said, an invitation turned down, a phone call not returned, whatever?
- Should I just keep my mouth shut, or should I speak my mind?
- What's the "right" amount to spend on a graduation gift, a wedding gift, or a bar mitzvah gift---for your best friend's kid, your co-worker's kid, or nieces & nephews?
- Would you be angry, hurt, happy, sad, or grateful if this happened to you?
- Should I worry about this, or not?
When you share a life-time of history with someone, you know it's OK to call about anything--big or little stuff. And it can just be a quick chat. We don't know (or need to know) every detail of each other's lives--but, honestly, a quick chat is a comfort, and a touchstone to my life. It just makes me happy!
On My Sister's Kitchen Bulletin Board--Advice about Kids--When They're No Longer Kids
I know my friends who have out-of-town sisters feel the same way.
- Bonnie talks to her sister via cellphone on her Saturday morning walks.
- Joyce connects with her sisters--all the time.
- Marge and her sister catch up by arranging side-by-side manicure appointments.
- Tess--who has a super-busy schedule--always makes time for phone calls with her sister, who happens to share her quirky taste in TV shows.
Why Do Sisterly Chats Makes People Happier? Let's Ask Deborah Tannen
Go ahead--read the whole essay. It's short. And you won't want to miss the charming story of the 80 year-old sisters who like to "just talk". Just click here.
But, here are my favorite parts.
“Having a Sister Makes You Happier”: that was the headline on a recent article about a study finding that adolescents who have a sister are less likely to report such feelings as “I am unhappy, sad or depressed” and “I feel like no one loves me.”
These findings are no fluke; other studies have come to similar conclusions. But why would having a sister make you happier?
My own recent research about sisters suggests a more subtle dynamic. I interviewed more than 100 women about their sisters, but if they also had brothers, I asked them to compare.
Most said they talked to their sisters more often, at greater length and, yes, about more personal topics. This often meant that they felt closer to their sisters, but not always.
So the key to why having sisters makes people happier — men as well as women — may lie not in the kind of talk they exchange but in the fact of talk. If men, like women, talk more often to their sisters than to their brothers, that could explain why sisters make them happier. The interviews I conducted with women reinforced this insight. Many told me that they don’t talk to their sisters about personal problems, either.
That’s another kind of conversation that many women engage in which baffles many men: talk about details of their daily lives, like the sweater they found on sale — details, you might say, as insignificant as those about last night’s ballgame which can baffle women when they overhear men talking. These seemingly pointless conversations are as comforting to some women as “troubles talk” conversations are to others.
So maybe it’s true that talk is the reason having a sister makes you happier, but it needn’t be talk about emotions. When women told me they talk to their sisters more often, at greater length and about more personal topics, I suspect it’s that first element — more often — that is crucial rather than the last."