Extroverts are happier than introverts. People who are outgoing and gregarious, who interact easily with others and who cultivate relationships are generally happier than those who withdraw from human contact.
So, what’s an introvert to do? Studies suggest that it might be good for introverts to pretend that they are extroverts, even when this requires them to act against what feels normal.
To make sense out of the issue, we need to know what the researchers mean by introvert and extrovert. There things become less clear.
Sumathi Reddy offers some of the theories for why extroverts tend to be happier:
One theory is that being talkative and engaging influences how people respond to you, especially if that response is positive. Others speculate that people get more satisfaction when they express their core self and opinions. Another possibility: Happiness might come simply from having successfully completed a goal, such as giving a speech.
"If you're introverted and act extroverted, you will be happier. It doesn't matter who you are, it's all about what you do," said William Fleeson, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
For my part, I agree with Prof. Fleeson. Self-definition is less important than what you do.
Unfortunately, the definition of introversion and extroversion are less than clear.
If extroversion involves connecting with other people, surely it contributes to happiness. And yet, some people are boisterous and bombastic, too outgoing and gregarious for their or anyone else’s good. Do you want to call them extroverts? Someone who mouths off about core opinions all the time is likely to alienate more people than he connects with.
Many researchers believe that extroverts are more comfortable performing in public. Extroverts like to give speeches and feel at home in front of a crowd. And yet, being able to entertain people is not necessarily a good thing. Many natural-born entertainers are so into themselves that they fail to connect with others. They are always performing, so they never really involve themselves in conversation. It’s a “tears of a clown” syndrome.
And then, not all forms of introversion are the same. Sitting in a room looking at the walls is not the same as sitting in a chair and reading a good book.
Introvert Clark Powell explains that he receives a great deal of pleasure from his solitary activities:
Mr. Powell says his sources of pleasure include learning new things and reading a good book. "I may not share my happiness as willingly as other people…but I consider myself just as happy and I'm extremely motivated to learn and grow as an individual."
Then again, Powell also forces himself to act like an extrovert. He pushes himself to give speeches and feels happy when he has succeeded in an activity that feels somewhat unnatural.
Moreover, some researchers define introverts as people who prefer to interact in small groups. Since there is a considerable difference between attending a small dinner party and dining alone,I do not see the value in affixing the same label to both.
Be all of that as it may, some people are more gregarious than others. Some people interact with others more easily. And some people are painfully shy and withdrawn, manifesting behaviors that make it difficult to connect.
Research suggests that those who feel handicapped by introversion can cure their condition by acting like extroverts.
They do it by identifying behaviors that characterize extroverts and adopting them. If introverts tend to avoid human contact, to skip out on appointments, to fail to respond to messages, then an introvert who wants to overcome his condition would do well to do the opposite of what will feel more natural.
As a treatment model this makes good sense. It belongs to the category of cognitive and behavioral treatments. The key to overcoming introversion is selecting replacement behaviors that counteract the tendency. It requires discipline and perseverance, but it does not require insight into the root cause of the initial problem.
Trying to treat the problem with injections of insight reinforces the bad behaviors. If you believe that you can only change your ways by gaining insight you will have found an excuse for not changing your ways. And you will have unfortunately been persuaded that changing your behaviors does not require work, but is a spontaneous reaction to a change of heart or mind.