Just recently I purchased the book, The Handbook of Solitude
. I have not finished reading through it, but there was a great chapter on Introversion, Solitude, and Subjective Well-Being by John Zelenski, Karin Sobocko, and Deanna Whelan (Carleton University). I use the word, "great" but I really mean, it was an eye-opening experience. The basic premise of the chapter is that introverts are, on average, less happy than extroverts. I was, as I'm sure most of the readers on here, a little resistant to the idea that introverts could be any less happy than extroverts. The authors sought to deal with the popular critiques of this rather robust finding from scientific research. The critiques quoted from the chapter are:
- Happiness measures are biased towards extroverts
- Extroversion measures are biased towards happiness
- Introverts are happier in cultures that aren't so individualistic
- Introverts have fewer, but stronger friendships - enough to create happiness
- C'mon, My introverted friend and I are happy
All of the critiques however, do not hold up to empirical findings (for a more detailed explanation, of course, read the chapter). The fact of the matter is, when you go through all of the critiques, at the end of the day, extroverts, on average, are happier than introverts. That is not to say that introverts are sadly, lonely people. On the contrary, the authors suggest that the average difference in happiness is small but significant. But there is a difference. They are also not suggesting that introverts are somehow lesser than extroverts either. Indeed they briefly highlight some of the strengths of being introverted, such as being able to regulate their behavior better and being better at problem-solving.
However, when it comes to happiness, extroverts do better. This is true even when they are alone, extroverts are happier alone than introverts. Other very important finding, whether introverted or extroverted, both tend to enjoy socializing more than spending time alone. These findings go against the stereotype that introverts are happiest when they are alone. The fact of the matter is that meeting and spending time with others is a happier state than being alone. Not only that, but also when introverts act extroverted, they also report being happier as well. And contrary to what seems like common knowledge, introverts do not report needing to provide greater effort, decreases in the ability to self-regulate, or experience simultaneous negative emotions. On the contrary, they report feeling more authentic when acting extroverted in the moment, but report feeling less authentic in hindsight.
For those not intimately involved in the research of introversion/extroversion, I am sure, like myself, these findings were eye-opening. To some degree, the findings do make sense, we all have a fundamental need to belong and connect with others. It is very much like the need to eat or sleep. Certainly depending upon our body type, metabolism, etc., all of us eat different amounts of food, but whether we eat a little or a lot, eating food is a pleasurable activity. Similarly, all of us need to connect - we may need to do it at different amounts, but we do need to do it. And connecting is a pleasurable activity. Not only that, but having a healthy level of social interaction makes us, in general, happier.
I am not arguing that introverts should become extroverts. I am pretty sure there are a huge number of introverts who have heard over and over again, how quiet they are and how they need to come out of their shell more. I believe that the majority of introverts are happy and content with their social lives. I also believe that a lot of introverts are sick and tired of hearing that they need to get out more and meet other people. The research clearly shows though that if introverts acted a bit more extroverted, they would be happier and less lonely. The question that burns in a lot of introverts' minds is, how do we do that exactly?
More on Loneliness: http://www.webofloneliness.com