Move into a new neighborhood and sooner or later bits of gossip will begin to flow your way. If you’re living in an apartment, your neighbors will probably tell you about the building, its tenants, and the neighborhood. Chances are you’ll even partake in the gossip, telling them about something you had fixed in your apartment or how playful another neighbor’s dog is. Or, maybe you’ll explain what the loud couple across the hallway argued about last night or how the people upstairs won’t stop stomping on their floor. As a key component to human social connections, everyone gossips. But if you want to live longer, you’ll have to gossip the right way.

Done right, gossip can improve wellbeing and lengthen a person’s life. But it has to be positive gossip; the friendly, “over-the-garden” fence kind, Dr. Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, told The Daily Beast after speaking about two studies on gossip at the Cheltenham Science Festival this past weekend. “The most important thing that will prevent you from dying is the size of [your] social network,” he said. “That has a bigger effect than anything, except giving up cigarettes. Your social network has a huge effect on happiness and wellbeing.”

Over-the-fence gossip, like telling a neighbor about another neighbor’s new job, has been shown in studies to evoke self-reflection and inspire people to work harder for themselves. At the same time, these social connections trigger the release of feel good chemicals, such as endorphins, which can help relieve stress and strengthen the immune system. What’s more, the bonds that develop between people who speak this positivity helps to diffuse future conflicts faster. In an apartment building, neighbors become friends — and likewise everywhere else, such as in the workplace.   

Both Dunbar and Dr. Jennifer Cole, a senior lecturer in the Department of Manchester, spoke about these benefits at the science festival — Cole’s own work has looked into the effects of gossip on self-esteem. Specifically, they spoke about two studies; one of them was a meta-analysis of 148 other studies looking into the outcomes of heart attack patients a year after their surgeries. That study found “the best predictor of good health was the quality of the social contact they had with others,” Dunbar said. The other study, meanwhile, found mothers of toddlers were less likely to become sick if they kept up with friends and family.

“The more they contacted friends and family, the less illness mother and child had,” Dunbar said. “The question then becomes how to maintain and service your social networks, and the answer is by talking to people a lot.”

Gossip, when it’s being spread positively, can benefit people by helping us give up on our own interests “to gain more in what is a collaborative exercise.” The gossiper then becomes the center of these social networks, spreading information throughout. An example, members who spread news about other family members, such as engagements or illnesses, tend to be known as the “kin-keepers,” Dunbar told The Daily Beast.

It’s when gossip causes conflict that its effects take a turn for the worse. “People are not attracted to gossips in a negative sense,” Dunbar said. “Gossiping provides a level of power, but it’s very fragile. If you get the reputation of someone who gossips negatively, you become someone who cannot be trusted to tell things.” Ultimately, this can end with the gossiper being excluded from the social circle — and thus all the positive effects of gossiping are reversed.

Knowing what others don’t, and spreading that information can certainly have a positive effect, Dunbar said. But “if pushed too far, the reputation of the gossiper can be in danger.” He suggested gossipers “aim to balance, reinforce, and service, like you service your car. Pass on delicious tidbits, but don’t overdo it.”