On Introverts, Happiness and Social Media

Photo credit: Jeremy Hockin, “Solitude” (CC BY 2.0)

As I was recently reading Psychology Today article The Revenge of the Introvert by Laurie Helgoe, I become aware of the fact that the very reason I found the article in the first place was due to introversion. I had some time before my class would start, which meant that my first impulse was to spend that time not finding colleagues for a chat or dropping in the union to see who was available to talk, but in the library, where I found a comfy chair and surrounded myself with issues of The Writer and The New Yorker and, yes, Psychology Today. What could be better?

There was a time when I was at best ambivalent about my preference most of the time for solitude and reading and, quite frankly, my own company. However, I am slowly coming to appreciate and even relish this part of who I am, this introversion that I misunderstood for so very long as shyness, as Helgoe explains:

“On the surface, introversion looks a lot like shyness. Both limit social interaction, but for differing reasons. The shy want desperately to connect but find socializing difficult, says Bernardo J. Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Introverts seek time alone because they want time alone. An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.”

A few years ago a lot was made of studies that suggested not only that extroverts are happier than introverts, but that “extroversion can actually cause happiness.” The advice for introverts was to pretend to be extroverts, to “act chirpy.”

But what if, as Ms. Helgoe suggests, happiness simply has a different meaning for introverts?

“In the United States, people rank happiness as their most important goal. That view has a special impact on introverts. Happiness is not always their top priority; they don’t need external rewards to keep their brains in high gear. In fact, the pursuit of happiness may represent another personality-culture clash for them.”

“In a series of studies in which subjects were presented with an effortful task such as taking a test, thinking rationally, or giving a speech, introverts did not choose to invoke happy feelings, reports Boston College psychologist Maya Tamir. They preferred to maintain a neutral emotional state. Happiness, an arousing emotion, may be distracting for introverts during tasks. By contrast, extraverts reported a preference to feel ‘happy,’ ‘up,’ or ‘enthusiastic’ and to recall happy memories while approaching or completing the tasks.”

One danger in this kind of discussion is to assume an us vs. them attitude that goes something like this: Introverts are often misunderstood; therefore, introversion must be somehow “better” than extroversion. That is, of course, just as damaging as saying that introverts just need to act like extroverts in order to be happy. By learning more about the effect introversion has on my life, I also have come to appreciate more fully the unique gifts of extroverts, in part because I feel less pressure to be like them. (I’m tempted to write, Some of my best friends are extroverts!

Helgoe’s article offers insights for introverts and extroverts alike, especially in her final “What Not to Say to an Introvert” list. Even fellow introverts can make the mistake, for example, of asking pointed questions as a way to avoid having to talk about themselves, forgetting that the introvert to whom they are speaking may not want to give on-the-spot answers or opinions.

That’s where social media and email can be godsends for introverts, as long as we manage these tools and toys rather than letting them manage us. We can choose, for example, against the popular “email is dead” mantra, to continue to prefer email to texting, because it allows us time for longer, more well thought out responses. We can use blogging or Facebook or Twitter in ways that work for us, discarding or ignoring what doesn’t, without feeling a whit guilty.

Maybe living the introverted life is an alternative to extroverted happiness, something altogether different, and just as potentially rewarding.

10 thoughts on “On Introverts, Happiness and Social Media

  1. I just love this post, Lisa. Thank you for sharing. I think the key, as you point out, is for writers to find their own pace and comfort with their approach to social media. Certainly, not every writer is well-suited to tweet, blog, goggle+, tumble, tube, Klout etc., etc., etc. That is OK! There will only be more breakthroughs, which is terribly exciting but also overwhelming for the more introverted.

    All this means is that we have more choices as writers, which is wonderful. It’s up to us to choose a strategy that works for us. And I’m so glad you chose to join us back on Twitter, by the way! ( :

    Here’s to finding happiness in quiet moments, good books and finding your own pace!

  2. Introversion / extroversion is about where you gain your energy from – how you recharge.

    It has nothing to do with whether you are bubbly in social situations!

    You can be a very sociable, chirpy person but still need to recharge your batteries by spending time alone.

  3. Thanks for this good read! The high speed of life (and the internet) today is powerful, strengthening and draining at once. I like to keep up on Twitter, but also to recharge by myself (as Laura wrote in her comment).

    There seems to be a lot of talk on introverts/extroverts these days. It makes me want to include this perspective more when writing about online & offline identity.

  4. I don’t supose I fit into any one category, but all. I am shy-I have trouble talking to people I don’t know or don’t know well. In some social situations, I won’t be one to start a conversation and Twitter is difficult for me.
    I find ‘energy’ in being social with familiar people and in being alone doing my own thing. If I have to speak to a group on a topic within my expertise, no problem. Making people feel comfortable commenting and discussing on my blog, easy! Even commenting on someone else’s blog is no problem.
    Ask me to come to a party where the host is the only familiar face…I’d rather stay home.
    It boils down to being happy in any circumstance, social or not, except where I feel I should be talking to people I don’t know. What do I say? Who wants to listen to me? What if I say something they think is dumb? Or what if i come off sounding like a know-it-all? What if they don’t like me?
    The older I get, the less shyness bothers me, though it’s always with me.

  5. It’s so interesting…. I’m definitely an introvert and enjoy, even love, the hours and hours of solitude required by working at home as a writer. But I also love the rapid demand of texting and Twitter, and very much agree that social media is a godsend. I draw the line, however, at “being chirpy.” 🙂 This is a great post, nice to meet you!

  6. Thanks for sharing this post. It’s comforting to know you can be an introvert and still belong to a group (even if we are all writer introverts, there is still community in that shared experience). Personally, I feel the introvert tendency is a bit necessary for the writing life as the writing life requires observation and introspection – both a bit difficult to do when surrounded by “chirpy noise,” even if it is our own. Great blog – I have a similar goal to post every day, so it’s reassuring to know it can be done AND remain engaging and fresh. Check me out at http://whatstrueformetodayis.wordpress.com/ Welcome to feedback. Thanks!

  7. Thank you so much for these comments! I does help to know that there are others who experience life in the same way. I’m reading a book about networking for introverts at the moment–will review it soon. 🙂

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