I hesitate to disagree with the immortal La Rochefoucauld, but I think he was wrong when he wrote, “We are always bored by those whom we bore.”

Not always (though I often remind myself of this observation when I’m feeling bored by someone else). I think that sometimes we find a topic so interesting that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it might not be interesting to someone else. And most of us want to make a good impression and avoid boring other people.

Unless you get a truly enthusiastic response from your interlocutor—which is possible—be very wary of recounting…

1. A dream.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.
3. The route you took to get here.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.
6. An account of your last golf game.
7. The plot of a movie or play—in particular, the funny parts.

What do these subjects have in common? The listener has nothing to add. He or she must just hear you describe your experience.

Now, it’s not as if these subjects could never be interesting to someone. A great story-teller, of course, can make anything interesting.

And if a person has a child the same age as yours, or is a fellow oenophile, or is truly very curious about the latest addition to Philip Roth’s oeuvre, you might have a happy conversational partner.

Be on guard, though, for glazed expressions, noncommittal grunts, or darting eyes.

And here’s a point that I constantly prod myself to remember, because I love to tell a good, long, self-interested story as much as anyone:

if you’re having a conversation with someone, and it’s interrupted, and that person shows no interest in picking up the thread of the dropped conversation, let it go.

“Oh, just to finish what I was saying, then we switched from I-95 to the Hutch, and then we took the next exit, which was wrong, so then we turned around and…”

Of course, the seven topics listed above are just examples. I’m sure I’m missing some topics on which it’s easy to be boring. Any spring to mind?

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.


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