Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are Introverts Happier When They Act Extroverted?

Well, this article is making the rounds and stirring up all sorts of opinions. It's called "How an Introvert Can Be Happier: Act Like an Extrovert," and, I'll tell you, even just reading the title made me angry. I've tried acting like an extrovert. If I do it for short periods of time, I'm bored. If I do it for long periods of time, it generates anxiety, self-loathing, and depression. Which, no, do not make me happier.

Turns out the article itself is less definitive than its controversial title. It cites a study that claims introverts are happier when they behave like extroverts, but then quotes several introverts basically saying, "Well, that doesn't make sense." So the article isn't as bad at it sounds, but I still have some issues with how it phrases things and with the study itself. Let me quickly go through what the article says.
Extroverts, those outgoing, gregarious types who wear their personalities on their sleeve, are generally happier, studies show.
First off, let me respond to this with a great blog from Psychology Today which points out that extroverts may not actually be happier, they just may be more inclined to say they're happy. Many extroverts have a tendency toward extreme answers, while introverts are more likely to choose the ones in the middle. An introvert and an extrovert may feel the same amount of happiness, but when asked to rank it on a scale of 1 to 5, an extrovert may easily choose 5, while an introvert would rather call it a 3 1/2.
Experts aren't entirely sure why behaving like an extrovert makes people feel better. One theory is that being talkative and engaging influences how people respond to you, especially if that response is positive.
...Honestly, I'm not sure what that's saying. If you're talkative, people respond to you differently, especially if they respond to you positively? I'm not sure I can critique this because I honestly don't know what it's saying. Maybe my brain is just shot. If someone explains this in the comments I can go back and edit it to respond to what it actually says.
Others speculate that people get more satisfaction when they express their core self and opinions.
I have no qualms about expressing my core self and opinions as an introvert. Nor do many other introverts I know. Introversion =/= shyness. In fact, introverts are often impatient with small talk and would much prefer to talk about core opinions and who people are deep down. I have intensely rewarding conversations with introverts all the time.

(Also, how in the world could being an introvert but acting like an extrovert constitute "expressing my core self"? Isn't that hiding my core self?)
Another possibility: Happiness might come simply from having successfully completed a goal, such as giving a speech.
And here, the bizarre implication is that introverts don't/can't complete goals. I understand the idea of it being exhilarating to conquer something you're afraid of, but that's not what's being stated here. Also, not all introverts are afraid of giving speeches. These are huge, bizarre generalizations and I'm not OK with them.

They interview an introvert who is vice president of a media firm, who often has to do public presentations and be on TV.
Though he may dread making a presentation, he says he is exhilarated afterward. "I do feel a sense of relief and elation, but I don't know if that's because of the experience or because the experience is over," he said.
Well, it is one of my favorite things in the world to come home from a socially busy day. I feel elated as I leave, but I can tell you right now: for me, that's not because of the experience. It's because in contrast to the experience, the peace and quiet is too wonderful and beautiful to put into words. It's like how awesome it feels to sit down after you've been standing up for hours. It's not that you're glad to have been standing. You're just happy to sit down.
A series of studies, which included more than 600 college students, found that introverts misjudge how they would feel after acting extroverted. They often predicted feelings of anxiety and embarrassment, which never transpired.
"Introverts kind of underestimate how much fun it will be to act extroverted," said Dr. Zelenski. "You don't think you want to go to a party and then go and have a great time."
Let me say a few things here.

1) Going to a party is not necessarily "acting extroverted." There's a difference between socializing with people and pretending to be something I'm not. I've gone to parties and spent them hanging out with just one or two people, and I've had a great time.

2) Introversion =/= social phobia. I seldom anticipate being embarrassed at social gatherings. I anticipate being bored. I anticipate being awkward and uncomfortable, not in an "OH MY GOSH EVERYONE'S LOOKING AT ME" way, but in an "I'm not quite sure I know where to sit, so, um, I'll just stand up the whole time" kind of way. It's not mortifying, just... awkward.

(Also, today's introversion post is brought to you by analogies about sitting and standing.)
"We didn't find a lot of evidence for…the idea that acting like an extrovert would wear out introverts," said Dr. Zelenski. However, he said: "We found acting like an introvert tended to wear out extroverts," who performed worse on cognitive tests.
I have a theory about this, actually.

I think a lot of introverts have adjusted.

There's still not a lot of room for introverts to really be introverts all the time. We have learned to adjust and act extroverted, not because we want or because it'll make us happier, but because we need to. I think a lot of introverts have become accustomed to that to the point where even if they may be tired, they don't recognize it as introverted-related tiredness. I certainly didn't in high school.

It's like chronic pain. If my arthritis has been acting up for weeks and somebody asks me if I'm in pain, I may at first say no even if I am because I've been in constant pain for so many weeks that I forget that that's not normal. That pain level becomes the new normal.

Similarly, that social exhaustion level became the new normal for me as a high schooler, and I suspect it has been that way for a lot of other introverts. It wasn't until I started figuring out how to have non-exhaustive interactions that I realized that probably wasn't supposed to happen.
"We live in a culture that very much subscribes to the extrovert ideal of being bold and assertive," said Susan Cain, a former corporate lawyer who wrote a book last year called "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," which argues that introverts are unfairly maligned. Rather than trying to get introverts to act more extroverted, she argues that society should be drawing on their natural strengths, which can include being a good listener and working creatively.
Thank you, Susan Cain.

Maybe the findings of this study are true for a lot of people, but they absolutely have not been true in my experience. I am happy when I am allowed to be my introvert self around other people, and when I get a chance to recharge. I am my happiest when I am the most comfortable with myself. Acting extroverted is sometimes a necessity, and it may bring me results, but it doesn't bring me happiness.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I don't have the same level of passion about this particular topic, so the title of the article didn't make me angry--just perplexed. Actually reading the article in question didn't bring much clarity.

    At first, I couldn't tell whether it was sloppy research or sloppy reporting; however another article (, which showed up from elsewhere in your Facebook feed) led me to believe it's mostly just flawed research--based on squishy terms and extrapolated wildly.

    Your response here brings up a very good point, that successfully "acting extroverted" may bring short-term happiness while having long-term negative effects. The study only measured immediate positive effects (at least according to its abstract, I don't think it's worth 12 bucks).