Replacing casual conversations with something deeper could be the cure for late-pandemic malaise, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Recent studies indicate that most people wish they had more meaningful conversations in their daily lives. Behavioral science research consistently finds that the more deep and intimate conversations people have on a given day, the happier they are that day.

In fact, we all tend to underestimate how much other people — especially strangers — care about the meaningful information you have to share. As a result, we underestimate how satisfying deeper conversations with those beyond close friends and family can actually be.

In a dozen experiments with roughly 1,800 people in varied careers, researchers Nicholas Epley, Michael Kardas and Amit Kumaras found that participants felt happier and more connected than they expected after relatively deep conversations with people they had just met.

Participants also expected that deeper conversations would be significantly more awkward than they actually were. The overly pessimistic expectations about deep talk stemmed from the misplaced assumption that one’s conversation partner would be largely indifferent to the interaction. In reality, the other person also typically enjoyed getting beyond superficialities.

In another experiment, the researchers gave people relatively deep questions to discuss with one person they had just met and relatively shallow questions to discuss with another new acquaintance. Before the conversations, people expected to prefer their shallow conversation. Afterward, they said they actually preferred the deep conversation.

The same results were observed when the researchers simply asked people to have deeper conversations than they normally would. In this experiment, they first asked people to write down five questions they would normally discuss when getting to know someone. Participants responded with small-talk classics such as asking where someone is from, what they do for a living and how their jobs are going.

Researchers then asked people to write down another set of five questions that were deeper than they would normally discuss. Participants did so without much difficulty, with the most commonly asked questions including the biggest life regret someone had, what they most love doing and where they see themselves in five years.

Men and women did not differ in their enjoyment of the deeper conversation questions like these elicited. Extroverts and introverts didn’t differ either. Deep conversation with strangers left people feeling as positive as deep conversations with friends.

Which is all to say that better conversations are not beyond the realm of your imagination. You can have them as long as you are willing to try.