- Life may be full of hassles, but it can also be full of uplifts, if you know where to look for them.
- New research on introversion and uplifts shows how an inner focus can block out the joy of small pleasures.
- Extracting joy from life’s little sources of happiness can be an important way to promote mental health.
Finding joy in everyday experiences is an important way to keep yourself stressless and carefree. It may be something as simple as a young relative taking your hand as you walk down a hallway. That immediate boost helps shine a little light on your day. Known as an “uplift” in the psychological literature, such events are known to help reduce stress. Uplifts can counteract the effects of “hassles,” which are equally small events that, through wear and tear, can impact your mental and physical health.
As described in a new study by Pennsylvania State University’s Natasha DeMeo and colleagues (2023), “uplifts and hassles not only make up the topography of daily life…but these experiences… have implications for health and well-being” (p. 355). Importantly, though, people differ in their propensity to and resistance to such impacts.
Why Introverts Might Have Fewer Uplifts
Previous research has established that extraverts seek out and relish joyful experiences, even those tiny ones that qualify as uplifts. Introverts, with their greater inner focus, may be less likely to take advantage of these stress-buffering effects. However, they may also be more affected by hassles. Laboratory studies provide compelling evidence that introverts show greater emotional and physiological reactivity to external stressors. They may also be less likely to see themselves as successful copers and even take a bleaker view of a stressful situation than people high in extraversion. These self-perceptions, seen as critical in the so-called “cognitive” model of stress, can further exacerbate the deleterious effects of stress on health.
The Penn State authors note that, despite the strength of these prior studies, they may fail to capture the nuances of the personality–stress relationship. A lab study is useful for experimentation purposes, it but lacks the so-called “external validity” of seeing how people react in the context of their daily lives. Furthermore, prior studies rely on people’s memories for their hassles and uplifts, making the data subject to a retrospective bias. You can appreciate this problem if you think about the way you recall an event from several days or even hours ago. The details fade and, worse, become colored by the emotions the event arises after the fact.
Testing the Personality–Stress Link
Taking the approach that hassles and uplifts are best studied as they occur in real time, DeMeo and her collaborators used the method known as “ecological momentary assessment” (EMA). Their 242 participants ranging in age from 25 to 65 years lived in housing development in the Bronx and were part of a larger study on aging through which the EMA data were collected. Racially and ethnically diverse, nearly two-thirds were non-Hispanic Black, and a quarter were Hispanic; three-quarters either had a college degree or had at least some college courses.
Each participant was beeped through a smartphone app five times a day for 14 days. At each assessment, they reported on “any event, even a minor one, which affected [the participant] in a positive way.” If they did report an uplift, follow-up questions asked them to rate its intensity on a 1-to-100 scale. To measure introversion, the Penn State researchers administered a standard 10-item questionnaire, and the research team also measured hassles at the same time as they assessed uplifts.
The sample appeared relatively fortunate in the sense of experiencing relatively few hassles (less than 1 per day on average) and on the 0-to-100 scale, the average hassle amounted to about 67 points in intensity. Also fortunately for the sample, they reported about 19 uplifts over the 14-day period, and these qualified for a rating of nearly 80 in intensity.
Although prior research indicated a tendency for introverts to derive less joy out of their days, DeMeo et al.’s analyses hinged on the findings with respect to uplifts, based on the idea that introverts would be less sensitive to rewards. Consistent with prediction, those scoring higher on introversion reported fewer uplifts on a daily basis and they rated those uplifts as less enjoyable than did their less introverted counterparts. In round numbers, this amounted to only 15 uplifts over the two weeks that were rated as 76 rather than 79 out of 100.
Introversion alone, however, wasn’t the only factor affecting uplift ratings. When neuroticism, depression, and anxiety were taken into account, the effect of introversion remained only for frequency of uplifts, not intensity.
In terms of predictions regarding the ways that introverts would perceive their own coping abilities, the finding did emerge of a tendency for them to regard “miscellaneous” hassles (i.e., not specific to situations such as finances or traffic) as higher in intensity. As the authors concluded, “We found some preliminary evidence of person-environment interactions—where the occurrence or experience of an event depends on the characteristics of both the situation and the person." In other words, whether people high in introversion believe an event to be a hassle may be specific to the given situation and the match between the way they see themselves and the nature of the hassle itself.
How Introverts Can Extract More Joy From Life
As the Penn State study suggests, people who tend to focus on their inner life appear to be more resistant to the possibility that an ordinary experience, however small, could produce a rush of positive feelings. Although the authors didn’t explore this particular line of reasoning, it may very well be that this focus on an inner state may not only inoculate them from hassles but also stand in the way of the simple pleasures that are so much a part of everyday life.
Given the high stakes in terms of mental and physical health associated with achieving a favorable pleasure-pain balance, the DeMeo results suggest that it would be worth the effort for people high in introversion to find ways to let the sun shine in on a more frequent basis.
To sum up, successful coping is more than a matter of fending off the bad. Finding joy in the seemingly insignificant experiences in life can help build not only resilience but also fulfillment.
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DeMeo, N. N., Smyth, J. M., Scott, S. B., Almeida, D. M., Sliwinski, M. J., & Graham, E. J. E. (2023). Introversion and the frequency and intensity of daily uplifts and hassles. Journal of Personality, 91(2), 354–368. doi:/10.1111/jopy.12731