Acting Extroverted (Even If You’re Not) Makes You Happier

You know the type.  They are talky, smiley, hand-shaky speech-makers.  If they aren’t the life of the party, they are certainly a big part of the mix.  They are extroverts.  And studies show that they are happier than introverts.  But get this: even if you are an introvert, just acting extroverted will make you happier, too!

Dr. William Fleeson, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, reported in a 2012 article in the Journal of Personality the results of an experiment that found introverts experience greater levels of happiness when they act more extroverted. In the weeklong study, researchers followed 85 people who recorded on Palm Pilots (where did they get those?) how extroverted they were acting and how happy they were feeling. Other studies of introvert behavior have reached similar conclusions.

So why don’t introverts act like extroverts more often? John Zelenski, a psychologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, and fellow researchers probed that question in an April article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

A series of studies, which included more than 600 college students, found that introverts misjudge how they would feel after acting extroverted. They often predicted feelings of anxiety and embarrassment, which never transpired.

“Introverts kind of underestimate how much fun it will be to act extroverted,” said Dr. Zelenski. “You don’t think you want to go to a party and then go and have a great time.”

So why don’t introverts act more like the happiness-inducing extroverts?  There are several possible reasons, including biology.  Research has shown that introverts don’t appear to gain the same “high” from acting out as extroverts.  The feel-good chemical dopamine is released in the case of extroverted behavior and the introverts do not seem to be as sensitized to it.

In an article on this introvert/extrovert phenomena in The Wall Street Journal by Sumathi Reddy, she interviews Susan Cain, a former corporate lawyer who wrote a book last year called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, in which she posits that introverts are unfairly maligned. Rather than trying to get introverts to act more extroverted, she argues that society should be drawing on their natural strengths, which can include being a good listener and working creatively.

Perhaps society should draw on the natural benefits of introverted behavioral strength, but the reality is that the extroverts get the most attention.  So if you are among the many of us who are more inward-looking, we suggest trying to put yourself out there more. You may find it to be a pleasurable experience, even if it is a bit out of your comfort zone at first.


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