Do Introverts Need to Act Like Extroverts to Be Happy?

The Wall Street Journal article How an Introvert Can Be Happier: Act Like an Extrovert  hit the digital airwaves this Tuesday and two days later there are over a 110 comments and lots of buzz.

I do appreciate a controversial piece on introverts.  While some of the points about Dopamine and integrating more outgoing behaviors make sense I take issue with the basic premise that introverts need to act more “Type A” to be happy. Haven’t we asked them to do that enough? It is often the extrovert’s projection of what happiness means that lays a trip on introverts.

After interviews with hundreds of introverts I have found they make highly effective influencers when, instead of trying to act like extroverts they use their natural strengths to make a difference. These six strengths include taking quiet time, preparation, engaged listening, focused conversations, writing and a thoughtful use of social media. When they leverage these powers in the workplace they are not only more effective but also more satisfied.

One more note: several of the studies cited here have very small samples and may have little widespread relevance.

Read the comments to get a feel for the passion and differing perspectives on this topic. For example, one person named L Bostrom wrote about how he gets energy and happiness from his own introversion:

“Am reading Ms. Kahnweiler’s book, and have to say I finally realized why, though I can force an outgoing persona and actually enjoy the interactions, it is a true drain on energy and does not make me at all “happy” (whatever that means, per some of the great comments here). I get energy from introvert activity that helps me face the social aspects of life.”

He went on to say:

“I found this article to be ridiculously conclusive, and punctuated by a few comments from Real Introverts to the effect of “I disagree with those studies” or “Gee, that’s not how I feel”.

One response to the comment about social media. As an introvert, I find that it is a very easy way to keep up with people or events, or just for feedback about the world. It does not feel to me like a fake extroversion or anything like that. In fact I would count it among the things that are enriching for me. “


10 thoughts on “Do Introverts Need to Act Like Extroverts to Be Happy?

  1. Laura

    I don’t want extroverts defining or interpreting what happiness is for me. Case in point. Last week I made an impromptu decision to do something unique for my birthday. I went skydiving. I showed up – alone. The staff was almost suspicious. They couldn’t comprehend that someone would do a once-in-a-lifetime-daredevil feat without gregarious cheerleaders in tow. Instead of screaming and fulfilling their expectations for outward elation, THEY weren’t comfortable with my calm blissful demeanor. So there. I was ecstatic and had a matching smile. I think they are all still clueless that there is another way and approach to all things.

    1. Jennifer Kahnweiler Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Laura and Happy Birthday! I am so glad you were able to celebrate in the way that made you happy. Forget those cheerleaders..who needs them?:)

  2. Jessica

    I was a quiet child who liked working alone and enjoyed the quiet company of my introverted father. I grew up comfortable and happy in the person I was. When I got older and entered the extroverted world were fun was defined as large social events I found myself literally exhausted and just wanting to get home. I ended up thinking maybe I had a real medical problem and I needed therapy or medication. The extroverted people around me treated my feelings like they were abnormal, alien, bizarre (and even rude!) and I became depressed. I went from a content introverted child to a young adult in crisis. When I finally learned more about what it meant to be an introvert it was like the world opened up. Suddenly I was not sick, I was just an introvert, and turns out I am not alone. Once I understood who I was and stopped trying to compare myself to the Extroverted Ideal I became a happy adult. Introversion has become something I now use as strength and not a weakness and I have made incredible jumps by embracing it and using it to my advantage. The people that write articles like this may think they are helping solve peoples problems but to me they just create more making a large group of people in the world feel like they are sick or abnormal and that the only way they can be happy is to dramatically change who they are when in my experience all they have to do is embrace who they are!

    1. Jennifer Kahnweiler Post author

      Thank you Jessica. A comment like yours helps to validate the feelings and insecurities many introverts may be feeling. You are doing a true service by being so honest in your writing. By the way, another strength that introverts often use to make an impact. I am so moved by this. Thank you for taking the time to respond~

      1. Rootbeer

        I’ve only a limited knowledge about the social psychology of introversion and extroversion. But, I do feel like it would be good to say a thing or two in relation to the topic at hand. American culture has certain dominant values, which include extroversion (and maybe not merely extroversion, but extreme extroversion). If you have ever lived in a society where introversion is a very common feature (like many Asian societies), you can see some benefits of it. Before I get entangled with other people (be they romantic partners, roommates, friends), it’s probably a good thing not to always jump into things blindly. It’s probably a good thing to choose your friends wisely, not trust everyone you meet with your entire life. Etc, etc.

        So I fail to see how introverts need to become like extroverts in order to be happier, as there is probably a basis for one behavior vs another. If I could expand that thought a little bit, I find that I am an extremely adventurous person that wants to know a lot about the world. Yet, I find hanging out in bars getting drunk to be lame half the time. It has its use, but I have traveled through two dozen countries and most of the continental US on my own. I wouldn’t mind having a buddy, but then again, if I don’t know other people with similar interests and similar capacities, should i stay at home and do nothing? Or should I be traveling with somebody who is irresponsible with money and has no common sense?

        I can envision myself as a social butterfly in certain contexts, but in many other ways if I don’t feel like there is a viable return in time/energy/money from what I invest in something/somebody, then should I indefinitely be investing in that? Introversion is a useful thing, even if it’s devalued by our society. How many friends do you have that are undependable, how many people think nothing of the effects of their actions on others, how many people have life courses determined primarily by the social group around them? Extroversion and introversion are just useful ways to approach life, and I don’t think it’s even justifiable to label a person primarily one or the other.

  3. Davis Nguyen

    Hi Jennifer,

    I ran into this article as well. Susan Cain and I were talking about this. We agreed with Laura and Jessica, pretending to be someone you’re not will only work for so long.

    As you can’t pretend to follow a religion you don’t believe in. Pretending to be someone you’re not will in the end catch up with you and you realize how unhappier you are.

    – Davis

    1. Jennifer Kahnweiler Post author

      Thank you Davis. I agree totally! Faking it can work in some situations but not on a sustained basis. I look forward to hearing more
      from you!

  4. Pingback: [List] 12 things to do to be happier » Freakishly Productive

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