Stop Talking, Or, a Happiness Lesson from Sex and the City 2.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

A few days ago, as a treat, a friend and I went to see Sex and the City 2, which was tons of fun.

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to talk about the plot here for a minute, so be warned.

My favorite moment of the movie came when Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was sobbing to Charlotte (Kristin Davis) about the fact that she’d kissed her ex-boyfriend. She couldn’t believe she’d done it, she was frantic with remorse, and she wanted to tell her husband and be forgiven.

What struck me about the scene was that, for a long time, Charlotte said nothing. She sat right beside Carrie, gently stroked her hair, and said nothing. Her posture and her face showed that she was listening, and sympathizing, but she kept quiet. Charlotte’s silence was more powerful and more loving than anything she could have said. Sometimes words can only diminish what you want to convey.

This struck me because one of my resolutions is Stop talking. I find it very easy to talk, talk, talk. I’m a talkative person, plus, as a writer, I work alone and in silence for most of the day, so when I’m around people, I have a strong impulse to talk. If there’s a problem of some kind, I want to talk, when sometimes I should be more focused on listening. Also, I worry about knowing the right thing to say, and that can distract me from listening.

A few days ago, my older daughter was upset about something, and — more because I didn’t know how to respond than because I remembered this resolution — I said nothing. Instead, I just hugged her. That seemed to give her a lot of comfort, more comfort than perhaps my commentary would have brought.

Sometimes, it’s good to talk. Sometimes, it’s good to stop talking.

* I loved this video about an office prank. Wonderful! How fun is your office? Take this quiz.

* There’s been a lot of interest in the one-page discussion guide for book groups. Because so many people mentioned that they’re reading The Happiness Project with their church group, or in a spirituality book group, and the like, I wrote another one-page discussion guide that focuses on the spiritual aspect. If you’d like either discussion guide (or both!), email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.

  • http://www.fancynotion.blgospot.com/ Kerry

    I love this. I work in dementia care and we always discuss how important it is to communicate beyond words (in the context of someone nonverbal or struggling to communicate). As a society we are very “into” words and it’s nice to remember that touch, space, and energy are quite important as well.

  • Kendra

    So true! And such a good reminder. Reminds me of a great quote from the Dalai Lama: “Silence is sometimes the best answer.” I too am a writer who works nicely and quietly alone until I come into contact with another human being and then I’ll talk your ear off! I’ll work on balancing that. :)
    Thanks again for the great piece!
    Kendra
    Momentary.org
    Count your blessings. Everyday. Everywhere.
    free mobile gratitude journal

    • gretchenrubin

      I love it — another happiness paradox. “Silence is the best answer.”

      • Diana

        Also Dale Carnegie has a great saying: “God gave us 2 ears and only one mouth, let’s use them in the same proportion.”
        I have been reading you almost from the beginning of the project and I can honestly say it’s inspiring:)
        Cheers,
        Dee – Romania

  • LivewithFlair

    I needed that! We are traveling tomorrow to see my parents, and I always get so nervous about what we are going to talk about and what I can say! Your post reminded me at just the right time (I’m packing!) that maybe my silence is the best thing this weekend. I’m going to stop talking for once.

  • jenny_o

    Oh dear – this is timely for me also. It is a struggle to remember it “in the moment”, though!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I know, that’s a challenge for me too. I remember later!

  • Heather

    So very true. :-) Especially with emotional things, words can be so very meaningless.

  • Jen

    This is so true. Sometimes you just need a person to listen, a shoulder to lean on, or a hug, not so many words. I have a friend who has been my best friend since 1st grade and we have slightly grown apart over the years but remain close friends. One of the reason for this is the following: When I call and talk to her in person about something that I’m angry or sad about, I’m not always looking for advice or her opinion or how she’d deal with it. I just need someone to listen to me, someone to support and comfort me in my moment of anger, frustration, or sadness. Even three words, “yeah, that sucks,” would be good. But she always gives you her strong opinion on the situations, no matter what. I know her intentions are good, that she always wants to fix things, but sometimes silent comfort is just what a person needs.

    • gretchenrubin

      Sometimes it can help to say something like, “Don’t feel like you need to
      give me advice. It helps me just to talk to you.” She may feel like that’s
      the way to be most helpful to you.

  • http://www.tootoomama.com Daisy

    Ah yes. I am a blatherer too. On top of that, I am self-conscious about it because I have been told rather indelicately that it is irritating and self-absorbed (by someone no longer in my life). What I do now when I NEED to blather on (it’s my way of thinking out loud when I’m excited) is to affirmatively ask permission to be indulged. The only person with whom I do this is my husband but it works beautifully.

    As for silence as the best form of empathy, that’s so very true. In college I had a very dear friend who was quite good at this. When I was on my very last frazzled nerve I could be holding it together in a group of dorm-mates, but upon the mere sight of this friend I found myself bursting into tears — because I knew I could. Those wonderful people are rare indeed.

  • http://www.tootoomama.com Daisy

    I can’t resist one more comment. You reminded me of my favorite scene from the first Sex and the City — the scene in which Samantha simply feeds Carrie. Same idea, it was the silence that made it beautiful.

  • Chandrika

    Wow, what a great post Gretchen. I feel the same way as you, because I do writing and a lot of solitary activity, and then at work, I’m focused on work, when I am in conversation with people, I just want to spill and talk and talk some more!

    I’m going to make a conscious effort to ‘stop talking’. And maybe you’re right, sometimes just listening and being there can mean a lot to someone.

    Thanks!

  • Jennifer

    This is completely off the subject, but I was wondering if you have ever heard of SARK? She is W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L!!!!! I feel like you might like her and her books. Check her out!! Please, I’m begging you. :)

    • gretchenrubin

      Ok’

  • openfan

    This post reminded me what you wrote about self-control. I found whenever I suppress my need to talk, I ended up losing my self-control in other areas of my life. I guess it is good to let out some of the things we wanna get out desperately some time :)

  • ngrimshawe

    “Stop Talking” is great advice. I recently had a similar experience and while my heart went out to that person, I knew there were no words, that words would seem trite, under the circumstanses, so I sat with her…gave her my total presence…my total love… and let her talk and grieve. In the end we hugged and parted. Sometimes human warmth is all there is to give…and that is much more than any words can offer.

    Nick

  • clearlycomposed

    I like this post a lot. I tend to be a mother hen advice giving type and need to remind myself that often only listening is needed. Sometimes someone squeezing your hand says plenty.

  • SA

    God is good all the time… sometimes men are good… sometimes not. Let’s all put some Kaizen in our lives by showing God’s love to everyone we meet… one person at a time! How’s that? Sounds GREAT!!!!!! GO GODLY PEOPLE! GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • E A Gaines

    Very wise advice — perhaps you can find a creative way to make use of these “Stop Talking” calling cards that I found at SetEditions.com: http://www.seteditions.com/stoptalking.html

  • http://www.conversationarts.com Vincent Ng- Conversation Arts

    I can relate to what you’re saying Gretchen. At times I can talk a lot because I work as a Conversation Coach. But I think it can be hard to be silent with the people who are closest to us. I care so much for girlfriend that I just want to solve their problems or tell them what to do, or do the standard empathizing.

    But being silent, and letting people finish is so important. It’s important people feel out their emotions and just let it slowly go. Sometimes words just don’t do it.

    Here’s an article that I wrote on Listening that ties into this as well…

    http://www.conversationarts.com/2009/the-art-of-active-listening-listening-skills/

  • Kiley

    An old boss used to tell me that one of my greatest strengths was listening. He also said most people are waiting to talk – some are willing to listen. I have kept that with me.

  • http://playgroupolitics.wordpress.com/ rebecca

    My minister said, “the opposite of talking is not waiting” I thought it was very profound.

  • http://www.GetOrganizedWizard.com Michele @ Get Organized Wizard

    I’m also a writer, Gretchen, and an introvert, and I seem to process things by talking. Often I don’t really know what I think till I hear the words come out of my mouth.

    On the other hand, my brain and mouth run on apparently independent tracks. Sometimes my brain is appalled by things I say – I can hear it, hands on brain-hips, saying, ‘Uh, would you like me to step in here?’

    So ‘stop talking’ sounds like a radical and very good idea. Think I’ll try it!

    PS I probably should talk it over with someone to make sure. ;)

  • Jenn

    I recently did a group 40 days personal revolution, it was great. It included yoga, meditation and journaling as part of the group we often shared our journaling experiences. When sharing there were very often tears and the rule was no touching no soothing of any kind just let that person have his or her moment. When you touch or console you take away that persons ability to move through the situation. I was very eye opening because by nature many people are rescuers but by not rescuing we allow people to feel their true feelings and maybe discover something.

  • Anne@lifeinpencil.com

    Great post! If there’s one thing SATC does well, it’s show the importance of real friends who listen and support. I wrote about one of my other favorite scenes in the movie here: http://www.lifeinpencil.com/wp/2010/06/30/fess-up/

  • https://twitter.com/dadc David Cizek

    Silence is like negative space in visual communication. Words add to the moment, more layers, more meaning. Silence gives lightness. But same as in visual design – it gives lightness to something that’s already there – compassion, presence, listening, loving kindness.
    Thanks Gretchen