Myth of ‘extroverts doing best in life’ busted

Monday, 26 March 2012 - 5:38pm IST | Place: London | Agency: ANI
While shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, introversion is a preference for environments that aren’t over-stimulating.

Contrary to popular opinion, an introvert is not someone who is anti-social or shy, an expert has claimed in a new book.

While shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, introversion is a preference for environments that aren’t over-stimulating.

Unlike extroverts, who are the life and soul of the party and need to be around other people to recharge their batteries, introverts need a lot of quiet time and reflection. They crave time alone and are happiest in their own inner world of thought and feeling, the Daily Mail reported.

According to Susan Cain, where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum is the single most important aspect of your personality — the “north and south of temperament” as the scientist JD Higley puts it.

It influences our choice of friends and partners, and how we make conversation, resolve differences and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them.

It governs how likely we are to exercise (extroverts), commit adultery (extroverts), function well without sleep (introverts), learn from our mistakes (introverts), place big bets on the stock market (extroverts), delay gratification (introverts), and make considerate, well-balanced leaders (introverts).

As with other complementary pairings — masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative — humanity would be unrecognisable and vastly diminished without both personality styles. And yet these days many of us have been made to feel there is something wrong with being quiet.

Individuals are told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight.

The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong, works well in teams and socialises in groups.

We like to think we value individuality — but all too often we admire one type of individual, namely the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”.

Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Extroversion is a hugely appealing personality style but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Parents urge their children to socialise, and worry if they’d rather read a book alone. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value  ‘people skills’ above all.

To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. In your social life you probably feel a pang of guilt if you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book.

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art and inventions — from the theory of  evolution to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and the personal computer — came from quiet, cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

Without introverts, the world would be devoid of Newton’s theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Chopin’s nocturnes and even Harry Potter. And it’s not just creative geniuses who benefit from introversion. Studies have shown that introverts thrive in all areas of life, making better managers, wonderful friends and loyal lovers. It’s time to embrace the power of quiet.

Science tells us that social connections make us happier and healthier — and science is right.

But there are different kinds of social connection. While extroverts are never happier than in a crowd, introverts focus their energy on a small circle of friends and family. They’d rather have a meaningful conversation with one good friend than make small talk with strangers.

All the evidence shows that this is a wise path.

A study by University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl, PhD, found that the happiest people have twice as many in-depth conversations as the unhappiest, and participate in far less small talk.

Even introverts’ tendency to bury their nose in a book can serve them well — studies suggest reading makes people more empathetic and improves social skills by helping us better understand other human beings.


Jump to comments