Acting like an extrovert will make you happier

Posted 02 Aug 2013 by Rob Bailey, Managing Consultant, R&D, OPP

A Wall Street Journal article appeared recently that’s firmly in OPP’s area of interest. It claims that if you are an introvert and you’d like to be happier, you’d be better off acting like an extravert. You can read it here.

Thankfully, there is some nuance to the article; the author writes that even though this might lead to greater happiness, there will be a cost: acting outside your natural preferences is tiring.

Interestingly, the article also points out some of the reasons why introverts might not engage in the activities that extraverts find rewarding. One of these is that extraverts have a stronger biological reaction to reward – they strive more for achievement because they get more out of it. These rewards may not need to be particularly worthy achievements, as they might come from sustained striving for a goal, or simply from time spent in the company of others, or from drinking and smoking. Another reason for introverts not seeking some activities may be that their typically higher levels of anxiety mean that they avoid even starting them for fear of negative consequences.

If you’ve read any other blogs by OPP, you should be clear that we repeatedly reinforce the value of all types of personality. For example, in a previous blog I argued some of the relative advantages of each one. So given our perspective, surely I’ll now go on to defend the poor introverts and say what tosh the WSJ article is? Sorry, no, I won’t.

You see, even though all types have equal value, it’s not that all types are the same. Unfortunately our own research at OPP has repeatedly shown that introverts do tend to be more anxious (in fact this is one reason that they might be driven to outperform some more laid-back and confident team members). In turn, more anxious people tend to be less happy, particularly those who experience emotional instability. They also tend to see themselves as less lucky, experience less satisfaction with romantic relationships, and feel various other dissatisfactions with life. Oh dear.

So what can introverts do to be happier? It would appear that the article may be right – face up to some typical fears of introverts and behave in a more extraverted way from time to time; however, remember to have a backup of time suited to your natural preferences: moments of peace and reflection that will soothe the psyche of most introverts.

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