Most people love a good chinwag and research has now shown what we already suspected: that a regular dose of gossip can be beneficial for your mental health.
We humans will gossip about anything, from friends and neighbors to Hollywood stars and politicians. Estimates of our gossiping prowess show that we spend anywhere from 20 to 60 % of our daily conversations talking about the lives of other people. That’s a lot of time around the water cooler.
And despite rumors to the contrary, men gossip just as much as women, but teenagers have been shown statistically to be the queens (and kings) of gossip. Gossip forms a huge part of adolescent peer group behaviors and assists with in-group participation. What that means is that teens will share gossip with identified members of their group; hence gossip is a powerful way of cementing bonds between individual adolescents.
But even out there in the adult world, social psychologists report that gossip is also beneficial in creating lasting bonds. Gossip has been shown to:
1. Strengthen relationships between friends and work colleagues
2. Reinforce shared values
3. Offer increased feelings of “connectedness” and community spirit
4. Assist in controlling the poor behavior of others, particularly in an office situation
5. Offers a sense of status by being included in the “gossip circle”
Gossip can even help ward off depression. Half an hour over coffee listening to the dilemmas of a third party can be enough to make you realize that things aren’t quite so bad in your own backyard after all. Gossip also gives us a feeling of belonging which boosts our self esteem and increases our sense of wellbeing. Gossiping about the lives of people who seem to have it all, like Hollywood celebrities, also reinforces the idea that fate can deal a bad hand to anyone, despite beauty, money, and fame. The weight problems of Kirsty Alley, the love woes of Jennifer Aniston, and the fall from grace of Martha Stewart are all grist for the rumor mill, reassuring us that we are all very much human.
But before you go racing off to spread the latest tidbit, it pays to differentiate between “good” gossip and “bad” gossip. Gossip that exchanges information about our community, and brings a sense of “togetherness” can be regarded as beneficial to the individual. But spreading malicious lies does not fall under the category of “good” gossip. Bad gossip also includes talking to a person about the behaviors of a third party, while trying to drag the listener into a vicious, bitching match. This is not helpful either psychologically or on a community basis. Should this happen, it is best to extricate yourself quickly from the conversation. Simply state to the aggrieved person that they should take up the issue with the party involved. Reprisals from this sort of negative gossip are definitely not good for your mental health!