Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier

sister
image by Christopher Silas Neal

“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?

The usual answer – that girls and women are more likely than boys and men to talk about emotions – is somehow unsatisfying, especially to a researcher like me. Much of my work over the years has developed the premise that women’s styles of friendship and conversation aren’t inherently better than men’s, simply different.

A man once told me that he had spent a day with a friend who was going through a divorce. When he returned home, his wife asked how his friend was coping. He replied: “I don’t know. We didn’t talk about it.”

His wife chastised him. Obviously, she said, the friend needed to talk about what he was going through.

This made the man feel bad. So he was relieved to read in my book “You Just Don’t Understand” (Ballantine, 1990) that doing things together can be a comfort in itself, another way to show caring. Asking about the divorce might have …

Read the whole New York Times story.

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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    Whenever my sister and I chat on the phone, I can count on at least one good belly laugh! I need that!

  2. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Women don't just talk. They provide food, take care of your kids, organize things, and provide real help when you need it. And they can sense when a big hug will make things better. A woman asking about the details of a tragic divorce is thinking about how she can make someone's life better.

  3. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Yep, there's a gender gap, alright. Old men sit and talk about the weather. Old women sit and talk about old men. It's a line from a song, but it does seem like women talk about people and relationships a lot more than men. Even so, I'm sure glad I have a sister. She's great.

  4. Avatar Ken Murray says:

    Dr. Tannen is a genius and anyone interested in the differences between men and women would do well to read her books.