Thanks to Quiet, the mega-bestseller from Susan Cain, introverts are holding their heads a bit higher these days and workplaces are becoming more receptive to their needs. As a confirmed introvert, I think that's undoubtedly a good thing.
But has the pro-introvert pendulum swung too far? While it's great for everyone to help quieter types be comfortable and make their full contribution, new science suggests people are actually happier the more they're pushed to behave like extroverts.
How to be happier: act like an extrovert
The study, published recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, builds on previous research showing that, in general, extroverts report being happier than introverts. Would introverts feel better if they forced themselves to act more like extroverts, the researchers wanted to know.
To test out the idea they rounded up 131 participants and instructed half to get out of their shell more often via a week's worth of text message reminders. The results were clear.
"Leaning into extroverted behaviors resulted in participants reporting higher measures of well-being, including positive emotions, a sense of social connectedness and "flow" (full immersion in an enjoyable activity)," reports Scientific American. "And the opposite was also true: people who acted more introverted than usual saw declines in well-being."
If that annoys you as an introvert, you can take some consolation in the fact that it annoyed one of the study's co-authors too. "I kind of wish the research didn't show that, but it does," commented University of California, Riverside, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky.
But while the effect was clear, the reasons for it weren't. Possibly introverts faking extroversion felt happier because we live in a society that tends to value extroversion. Maybe it was the novelty of trying something new. Or it could be the happiness-boosting power of seeing friends, which science has confirmed again and again. It's also totally possible that this effect only holds for a short time -- pretending to be an extrovert could quickly get exhausting rather than cheering if you did it for more than a week.
How would you feel after a week of non-stop socializing?
So what's the practical takeaway here for those of us who tend towards the quieter side of the spectrum? Should we embrace our inner extrovert and consciously nudge ourselves to be more social? This study answers with an emphatic "maybe," but self-confessed introvert Sirin Kale wanted a more definitive answer.
To get to the bottom of the relationship between forced socializing and happiness she took it upon himself to test out the study results on herself, writing up the results in the UK Guardian. The whole blow-by-blow of her week of team sports, volunteer groups, and solo party going is well worth a read in full, but here's her bottom line takeaway:
People are kinder than you think and it is often easier to be truthful with strangers. That you should open yourself up to new experiences because the worst that can happen is getting hit in the face with a dodgeball, and that is not so bad. That we are all of us individual moving dots, part of the same involuntary palpitating life, crisscrossing as we walk the streets. It's nice for the dots to collide sometimes, even for a little while. Strangers can come together and share their stories. We all have a story to tell.
Well, that sounds lovely actually. Just reading about seven days of socializing made this introvert feel like curling up in a ball in the corner, and I am 100 percent sure I couldn't manage this much extraversion over the long haul, but Kale's experience actually makes me think that maybe us introverts should push ourselves out of our comfort zones more regularly.
It might not change our fundamental need for alone time, but both science and this experiment suggests a short, sharp dose of other people will do your soul good.