How to be happy – 13. Act like you’re an extravert – even if you aren’t

image Lesson: We can learn from happy extraverts and happy introverts

We saw in Strategy 12 that introverted people tend to be less happy than their extraverted counterparts.

But before you anti-social butterflies throw up your wings in despair and head for the nearest net, let me share some nuggets of evidence that the extraversion-happiness link is less clear-cut than it looks.

1. Even the strong correlations between extraversion and happiness (up to .61 for the statistically minded; 1) allow for rather a lot of happy introverts. Most of us can think of someone who’s not naturally outgoing, but who’s happy. If extraversion isn’t inevitably related to happiness, something else must be at work, at least for the happy introverts.

2. Happy introverts act a lot like like happy extraverts – at work, leisure and even when engaged in solitary activities (1). So although  happy introverts and happy extraverts score differently on personality traits, they behave in similar ways.

3. Simply acting extraverted leads to feeling happier. This applies whether you’re deliberately making an effort to be social, optimistic and active (some of the qualities of extraversion) or you do it naturally in the situation (2).

The fact that there are unhappy extraverts and happy introverts means it can’t be extraversion per se that makes people happy. Rather, the findings above suggest that both extraverts and introverts are happy when they do extraverted things. Perhaps acting social, optimistic and active comes naturally to extraverts – but the good news for the rest of us is that even when introverts act that way, their happiness increases too.

Happiness strategy: Act like you’re an extravert – even if you aren’t

Wherever you sit on the introversion-extraversion dimension, you can be happier. You needn’t go from party pooper to party popper overnight, but you can take small actions that feel good to you. For instance:

  • Start one conversation each day
    It can be with a person at the store, the library, the gym, the coffee machine – anywhere you see people. Keep it simple and light – no medical stories or rants about today’s youth. Starting up conversations is a great way to build your social muscle – and soon you’ll find it’s less of an effort and more of a habit.
  • Initiate social dates
    Not everyone is the life of the party but we do all benefit from having a network of people in our lives – even a small one. Be prepared to initiate some social activities yourself. Start with something simple like inviting a friend out for coffee or suggesting a movie to see with a small group you already know.
  • Plan activities for yourself
    You might feel disinclined to plan activities but having a schedule is a good way to become more proactive. Boosting your energy level and opting for a little extra adventure can be goals you pursue at a pace that feels challenging, but good. 

The idea with this strategy is not to push yourself to be something you’re not. Rather, simply aim for the more extraverted end of your own spectrum – and you might just find yourself at the happier end, too.

A note on neuroticism
Neuroticism hasn’t attracted as much research attention as extraversion, so we don’t have parallel findings about people acting emotionally stable (neuroticism’s opposite pole). As happiness research continues to thrive, such research may emerge.

Research sources:

(1) Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2001). Happiness, introversion-extraversion and happy introverts. Personality and Individual Differences, 30(4), 595-608.

(2) Fleeson, W., Malanos, A. B., & Achille, N. M. (2002). An intraindividual process approach to the relationship between extraversion and positive affect: Is acting extraverted as ‘good’ as being extraverted? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1409-1422.

How to be happy:
101 practical strategies drawn from positive psychology.

This post is part of a series covering simple, practical, research-inspired, happiness strategies you can use in your own life. For more information about the series, check out the 101 Happiness Strategies main page.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,

Image: (eLi) under the terms of a creative commons license

3 Comments

  1. P February 26, 2008
  2. P February 26, 2008
  3. Michele Connolly February 26, 2008