This question is prompted by a line of research suggesting that introverts, as a group, are not as happy as extroverts. Here is John Zelenski of the Carleton University Happiness Lab, describing some of the data.
As a person with a pretty high baseline level of happiness, I always scratch my head about these findings. And then I start thinking about how we define happiness. Is it joy, exultation, and a wide smile, or does it have many different expressions? Philosophers have pondered this question for centuries, joined recently by positive psychologists. I think the answer matters a lot when it comes to introverts and extroverts.
Studies show that extroverts tend to be more exuberant than introverts, and brain scans suggest that the reward networks in their brains are more responsive to anticipated delights, like winning money or viewing a picture of an attractive stranger. But there are many other kinds of happiness, and some of them are hard to measure. Here are five alternative forms of happiness; you may have many others to add!
1. The happiness of short social bursts — followed by blissful solitude: Zelenski points out a famous study (well, famous in psychology circles) showing that everyone is happier after socializing, introverts included. Which raises the question: why do introverts like to stay home? The jury is still out, but here’s a theory. Studies also show that there’s no correlation between extroversion and caring/agreeableness/need for attachment. Introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well. Yet most socializing doesn’t fall into these categories, so over the course of a lifetime they learn to avoid it, as a kind of default mode. Also, because introverts enjoy lower-stimulation environments than extroverts do, they learn to cultivate the pleasures of solitude, and of deep friendships with a select few — and they weigh these pleasures against any social invitation that comes their way.
2. The happiness of melancholy: I’m crazy about the famously melancholic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who has probably never written a single song outside the minor key. When I listen to Cohen’s musings on love and loss, yearning and sorrow, I feel happy. But why? It’s not an exultant kind of happiness. It feels more like a marveling at the fragile beauty of the human condition, and a pleasure in having someone articulate it so sensitively. But if you scanned my brain while I listen to Cohen’s “Anthem,” which parts would light up? Maybe the reward networks, but probably also the ones suggesting melancholy. Leonard Cohen’s fans (many of whom are introverts, judging by the people I saw at a recent concert) are mirroring his “negative” emotions, and through his music he mirrors theirs. But the very communion of this act is happy-making – if you define happiness broadly enough.
3. The happiness of flow: My book QUIET is coming out in January, and there’s been a lot of exciting advance press. My reaction to this is usually to note it contentedly, and then get right back to work. But the other day, my mother-in-law told me that she wished I would celebrate more. And she’s right that it takes a grand slam home run to get me to rejoice. (I did jump for joy when the great psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, about whom more in a minute, gave the book a great review.)
I’ve thought a lot about my mother-in-law’s wish. She and my husband (her son) both have warm-hearted, champagne bubble personalities, and a delightful tendency to whoop it up. I love their ability to transform the everyday. Achievements that might have struck me as ho-hum come to seem wonderful in their telling. They would score very high on any happiness measure you gave them, whether a questionnaire or a brain scan — probably higher than your typical introvert would.
But for me, when I get right back to work, this is not a turning-away from happiness but an embracing of it. People who love their work often reach a “flow state,” an optimal condition in which you feel totally engaged in an activity. When you’re in flow, you’re neither bored nor anxious, and you don’t question your own adequacy. Hours pass without your noticing.
But people in flow don’t necessarily look exuberant, or even content. They might frown, or furrow their brows in concentration. Here, in fact, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who invented the very concept of flow. His description of it is vivid enough (and his books are so well written) that I wager he’s in that state a lot. But he sure doesn’t strike me as exuberant — at least not outwardly.
4. The happiness of gratitude: I often feel grateful for what I have, especially my family and my work. Every time I walk outside I notice how beautiful it is – the weather, the trees, the hillside — and comment on it (my kids have started to do this too, which makes me happy). But again, none of this is joy or exultation; it’s not the sort of happiness that brings a spontaneous smile to the face. It’s much more internal and quiet than that.
5. The happiness of meaning: I’m going to use parenting to illustrate this one. Research repeatedly finds that parents of young children are less happy than the childless. Yet most people will tell you that their children bring them meaning and joy. They may not be happy to pick up mashed peas from the floor, or to get only five hours sleep a night, but their connection with their kids, and the chance that parenting affords to play the roles of Mentor and Guide, and the funny and miraculous things that children say all day long, transcends all this. The sheer existence of children is deeply satisfying.
So how to measure all this? It’s easy to know whether someone is miserable on the one hand, or ecstatic on the other. But how do you quantify the states in between? You can determine how grateful a person feels, or whether they’re in a state of flow at any given moment, or how well they like a sad song, but how do you add all these things up to conclude that one person is happy and another is not? I’m not even sure it works to just ask them (as I did with the poll above), because introverts have been found to give less extreme answers on polls than extroverts do. They might be less likely to check off the “extremely happy” box.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How did you score on the poll, and are you an introvert or an extrovert? What modes of happiness do you usually experience? What brings you down?
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I voted Moderately Happy on the poll, but I’m really somewhere between Moderately Happy and Moderately Unhappy. I guess I flip flop between the two, so it was a tough question for me to answer.
I really like your distinctions between the types of happiness. I think I experience them all as life fluctuates.
I experience the Happiness of Melancholy when I read certain books, like “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and “The Space Between Us.” I am in a book club that is all older ladies. I am probably 10-15 years younger than the next youngest and I am 51! I have noticed that there are some in the group who have very little tolerance for “sad” books. They simply won’t read them. When I read them, I don’t become sad, but I feel wrapped in the aura of the book and appreciate it for what it is.
The Happiness of Meaning is the other more mysterious, or maybe mystical, type of happiness when it comes to parenting, as described.
We adopted two baby boys at the same time. They were very high energy and high need types of people (and still are). I became very depressed throughout their infancy and toddler years. Toward the end of their toddler years, we decided to adopt a baby girl.
When my husband asked about my depression and how I could handle going through that again, I responded by taking the long view. I said, “what is four years of depression compared to a life-time with my child?”
Today, my boys are 12 and my daughter is 8. My relationship with them gives so much meaning to my life; I cannot even begin to describe what it means or what it is like.
However, I would like to make the distinction that they are not the definition of my life. They give my life meaning because they are a huge part of my life, but they do not give it meaning in the sense that they are my “career.” I do not define myself as first a mother and then a person. I define myself as a person, then a wife, then a mother, then a _________.
Part of my happiness in this day will be that I took the time to respond to this column rather than rigidy follow my “to do” list. What kind of happiness is tha? Maybe that falls under “Flow.”
I love it when I get to be in the flow!
I love this answer — thx for taking time out of your To Do list, Sheryl!
This article really hits the spot today. I had a hard time even answering the question, but ended up putting moderately happy. Sometimes I don’t even really relate to the word happy. I come from a strong German heritage where hard work is greatly valued. During Sunday phone calls with my parents throughout college and beyond, my mom always told me to “have a productive day.” I still joke with my mom about that. When I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and skipped the chapter on fun! I’ve actually always loved the times when I can immerse myself in work and get in that flow state (especially with writing). My only problem has come in having two back surgeries and chronic pain, which has limited my ability to sit at a computer and type non-stop (but maybe that is partly a good thing). I have also found that feeling like I am doing something meaningful is also high up on my list for making me feel “happy.”
Thanks for all your great insights, Susan! And thanks, too, to Sheryl, above.
That is hilarious about your mom! I think there is a German word, something like “sitzfleich,” meaning, the ability to keep your butt on the chair and keep working.
P.S. So sorry to hear about the back pain. I have had the first inklings of it and can relate to how awful it is.
I loved this Susan. The poll result puts me with the majority at ‘moderately happy’. I wish I was able to write a longer response – but its cold in the computer room tonight so please forgive me!
Amazingly I was just listening to Leonard Cohen before I came up here and read this. I absolutely agree with what you say and I find his songs really quite uplifting whereas all the extroverts I’ve said this to just think I’m weird.. I find I like his work for all the reasons you list, plus I often smile simply because of his cleverness with words
When I started to learn guitar at 39 was the first time I realised that all the songs I wanted to play were in minor keys
I, too, don’t jump up and down with excitement when I’m pleased. In fact this (plus my face is actually constructed to look permanently grumpy – I’m not kidding, the average Basset Hound would have an easier job smiling) has had me labelled as ‘negative’ in the past. This hurts – I’m actually a positive person and never let anything get me down for long, but only those I allow in are ever going to realise it. People seem amazed when they realise I have a sense of humour too.
That is so funny about the Leonard Cohen coincidence, Darren! You should check out this video of Alain de Botton discussing pessimism: http://vimeo.com/10601416 He talks about the Leonard Cohen phenomenon too, and even plays “Suzanne” before starting his lecture (sermon, actually — this was part of the Sunday Sermon series …are you based in London? you should check ths out!)
Thank you, Susan, for pointing out things like this. When I discovered the whole psychological concept of introvert vs. extrovert about a year ago, so much fell into place for me. Sometimes you just need someone to spell it out in order to realize its truth. Same thing here. I can totally relate to what you say about being happy without showing obvious joy. For me happiness often rather seems to be equal to contentment and it takes something really big to make me acutally do a happy dance. And although I don’t reach the state of flow quite as often as wish, this is indeed a form of happiness for me.
And by the way, you’re right: “Sitzfleisch” is something pretty German. I, too, know the “have a productive day”-goodbye instead of “have a great/nice/relaxing day”.
Wow! I’ve never heard of anybody who has experienced that “good-bye” before. I’m going to have to ask my mom about that word. She speaks fluent German.
I’m German and well, it’s not a real, official way of saying goodbye. But it’s something my mom says as well – and sometimes even I do. And I think it reflects the idea of work being more important than play. Which of course doesn’t mean, work can’t be fun, but still…
I appreciated your point about introverts being just as caring/agreeable/needing attachment as extraverts, despite our tendency to avoid “socializing.”
My solution to this dilemma has been, at various times, to live in intentional communities (such as housing cooperatives). A violently extraverted acquaintance of mine recently expressed surprise that someone like me (reserved, retiring) could successfully live in community. I was surprised at her comment, until I remembered that her intentional-community experiences have all been very brief (weeks, not years). I have found many introverts in intentional communities – probably significantly more than in the general population.
Living in community can be a fulfilling way to have deep connections with a small number of people. Contact doesn’t feel like “socializing” when you’re interacting in a very low-key way with people in your own home. Where I lived, it wasn’t rude not to participate in a conversation happening in the kitchen, if you were just popping in to fix a quick sandwich. But, it does create that happiness boost of frequently being around people I know well and care about. It’s much like the enjoyment my family of introverts gets from sitting around in a room together, each reading his or her own book, while occasionally sharing a funny part out loud. Living in communities, I would often sit in a corner of a common room, reading. Life happened all around me. I got my people fix, without the energy drain of being out in the world.
I wonder if old traditional living arrangements, large extended families living in a single house, was not actually quite supportive of introverts for this reason.
Many introvert strengths also play well in community — sensitivity (the functional kind), communication skills, conscientiousness. We tend to take up less emotional space than an extravert, which keeps a populous environment from feeling crowded or oppressive.
Maybe a bit OT, but I think it’s related to introversion and happiness, in that it’s a creative way to meet our needs and be happier.
That’s a fascinating theory, about the extended family model working better for introverts. I suppose it depends on the family. But I get what you’re saying. If you look at the opposite extreme — living alone — the hardest part about it can be having always to leave the house in order to interact. You’re always in a state of “too much” or “too little.”
I got a kick out of this bit of your comment ((“It’s much like the enjoyment my family of introverts gets from sitting around in a room together, each reading his or her own book, while occasionally sharing a funny part out loud.”) bc I just wrote almost this very thing about my family of origin, for a speech I’m planning to give in a few months.
Hi: You are spot-on with this concept; it articulates something I have long known about myself, but never quite put into words. I have loved the times that I shared houses and apartments with roommates (as few as one, as many as eight), just because socializing could be turned on or off as needed. Most importantly, I did not need to make the sometimes painful (and often awkward) moves that are necessary to build a friendship from scratch. Well-written comment.
Janie, you expressed very well my thoughts concerning Becky’s reply. I am recently retired. I miss the socializing in the office which could also be turned on and off, and when that socializing was satisfying, made me very happy. I haven’t found anything to replace it yet. I voted moderately happy. Funny, I have been thinking recently that living in a retirement community might be a solution.
“My solution to this dilemma has been, at various times, to live in intentional communities (such as housing cooperatives). [...] Living in community can be a fulfilling way to have deep connections with a small number of people. Contact doesn’t feel like “socializing” when you’re interacting in a very low-key way with people in your own home.”
This is marvelous. One of my happiest times was when I was living in the dorms in college. Probably I would find dorm life to be a nightmare at most universities, but I went to a tiny Christian college, and I found it to be an extremely uplifting and supportive environment, having just come from being very isolated and slightly ostracized in high school. People wanted to know me and hang out with me and experience dorm life with me, and that was a very encouraging thing to me. I was surrounded by people and didn’t find it overwhelming, because they were *my* sort of people, the kind who fed my brain. Plus there was always one’s own room to retreat to.
Living together in a community with that sort of people would be very pleasing.
I scored “moderately happy.” Funny, because I thought twice before checking–it would have been more “me” to select “moderately unhappy” since I’m usually a bit of an Eeyore.
However, my two-year-old has begun the practice of running up to me, flinging herself into my arms, and saying, “I love you, Mommy!” before smothering me with kisses. Also, I have a relatively new job where I deal with people on a limited basis (having recently quit another job where I felt like nothing I did had any meaning). I’m feeling lots of gratitude for the way things are right now. “Life is good,” as the cliche’ goes.
I was so excited to hear your interview on NPR. Was it Fresh Air? I can’t remember. Immediately, I identified with the title. As an introvert I often feel at a disadvantage…with friends and family and at work. Extroverts seem to always have the power–at least they certainly talk more. So I am looking forward to your book and finding out more about introvert’s power.
Today, in Michigan, it is raining, just about freezing, and the sky is gloomy. Yet, I would score myself as “moderately happy”. Even more happy than that (“extreme” is hard to choose for this introvert). It’s something about the turning inward and hibernating tendencies of the season that seem to match my natural inclination that makes me feel content (trust me, this will pass by February!). It’s not something I share with people I don’t know well. I’m afraid they’d think I was pretty weird. I guess it’s a way to tell a story about how I often feel out of step in this extroverted country. Which I wonder about….
….Are extroverts and introverts the same in other countries? And do countries with long winters produce more introverts? Isn’t Leonard Cohen from Canada?
I know EXACTLY what you mean about the weather matching your inclinations — even though I hate the cold, I have felt the very same thing!
I’ve never seen a study looking at personality and weather (though I’m sure it exists) but I do know there is more introversion in Finland (cold) and I believe Canada as well. Also in the Confucian belt countries, though this has to do with culture, not weather.
Thx for your comment!
(oh, btw, it was the Diane Rehm show).
“I’ve never seen a study looking at personality and weather (though I’m sure it exists) but I do know there is more introversion in Finland (cold)”
I read a book in school called “Foreign To Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures” (http://www.amazon.com/Foreign-Familiar-Understanding-Climate-Cultures/dp/1581580223) that dealt with this very subject. It states that cultures in colder climates tend to be more reserved than cultures in hot climates and makes a very good case for it. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the subject.
As for me and weather, I love greyness, clouds, rain, thunder, and I hate heat and the sun. I’ll take winter over summer any day, but spring and fall are my favorites, because I like moderation and don’t deal with extremes of temperatures very well. My favorite days are ones where it’s raining on new, green leaves. Those make me very happy.
I am an introvert – voted moderately happy. I am also a New Englander and no one in my family seems to celebrate much. Happiness for me seems to be related to satisfaction – knowing I taught a good class that was well received (double – satisfaction over developing and presenting what I know is a good class and knowing the people in the class found it interesting and informative); having worked with a client who was willing to make changes and feels good having done so; feeling good about a piece of textile art and then also having positive responses to it from others (that is a double ‘happy).’
I can see the value in trying to determining how unhappy someone is, but why how happy? I remember hearing that happiness was an emotional experience, pleasure a physical one, and joy was a spiritual experience – and that joy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with happiness. I think I have a tendency to spend much time in quiet joy which often overlaps the boarder of happy.
So I voted moderately happy. I know exactly why it is moderate as opposed to extremely which on many days I am and it has nothing to do with not interacting with others, in fact as Bilbo Baggins says some days I feel thin and stretched though for me it is from too much interaction with people and not from wearing an evil ring. This week-end my husband and I were invited to one of the interminable Christmas parties the season seems to dish out and when we both left our warm, cozy house and entered our cold car complaining about how much we were not looking forward to attending this party my husband good-naturedly admonished us for being anti-social and we giggled about it yet when we left several hours later I was just so happy to be out of there despite really making efforts to chat with people. I like one on one interaction spread far enough apart. Social gatherings nope, large groups nope, that does not make me happy. One on one with my closest friends at reasonably spaced intervals and time with my husband as well as lots of time to write, read, cook, pursue intellectual stimulation, be able travel and have time to be with my son and animals that is bliss.
It’s funny how many respondents voted “moderately happy” – that was my vote too, and it surprised me. I read the question, immediately thought “moderately happy,” and then thought, “You’re not moderately happy!” Maybe I am…
While I do not know Leonard Cohen’s music (a nice addition to my to-do list), much of the music that I listen to can be described as melancholy (in fact, IS described as melancholy by many friends). For some reason, melancholy music does not necessarily make me more melancholy. It seems to align with me, and that alignment is in itself pleasant. For example, I stumbled across Johnny Cash’s last recordings (which are to melancholy what a blue whale is to your average aquarium fish), and while I’d have laughed at you if you had predicted I would ever listen to country music, I ate those recordings up (of course, many are not really country songs at all, but covers of songs in many other genres).
Mood disorders run in my family, so I am not a good sample of one, but I think I am actually relatively happy most of the time, as I define it (curious, interested in people and thoughts and things); however, my level of energy wavers widely, and I find myself more sensitive than I would like to external influences such as my partner’s frame of mind, the weather, pressures at work and my often catastrophizing mind.
Interesting comments about the influence of climate. I am another New Englander, nth generation Cape Codder now living in Virginia, and I cannot discount the influence of the climate. Or is it just that only the endlessly grumpy can put up with grey, cold, wet New England winters? Yet, at the same time, when I go back up north, and I walk through the black, wet woods or along the shore in the winter, the grey surf high, I feel no sadness. My heart leaps like a fish finally put back into home waters.
Well, you must check out Leonard Cohen immediately. Try “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” “The Stranger Song,” or so many others…
That is an interesting study being conducted at Carleton University. I do not believe extroverts are happier than introverts, only that they are better performers and have a higher tendency to openly engage in displays that our society attributes to happiness. Extroverts are more talkative with various groups of people, they go out more, and they smile more because that is protocol in our society, and not necessarily because the smile is genuine (“The Show Must Go On,” as we may recall from Queen).
I believe there are two types of happiness, regardless of whether you are introverted or extroverted– fleeting moments of excitement that incite wide smiles and feelings of ecstasy, and a general feeling of content and satisfaction with life which may not be so brazenly displayed. A person can be happy in general, but have a terrible day (or going through a terrible period), or vice versa– be generally unhappy, but have a good day. The show of happiness may also be cultural. In the United States people place too much emphasis on the show, but in Russia, for example, people are more quiet, reserved, not smiling all the time, but have deeper connections with those they do show their smiles to. (This is an awesome article I always remember, probably because even though I am American through and through, I relate to the Russian psyche, lol. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200901/global-psyche-national-poker-face)
Overall life is a rollercoaster, a series of highs or lows, a glass that is perenially half-empty or half-full. Whether a person is prone to dwell on one side of the glass or the other, or a healthy medium between both, seems to be related to way more than just the introvert-extrovert ground of measurement.
I pretty much agree with your list on how one can define happiness, though I wouldn’t consider them “alternative” ways, probably because these items have always been my default definition of happiness. I would consider things like money, power, and meaningless encounters with people as “alternative” forms of temporary happiness that people use to fill the void, whereas the things that you have listed, I would consider the real deal as a definition for happiness.
1. You are absolutely correct, in my experience even introverts like me enjoy occasional socializing with close friends and family, but it should be followed by blissful solitude, as you point out. Such encounters with people who matter to one are meant to strengthen the relationship and create beautiful memories that serve as a bright candle for the introvert to use as she delightedly flips back through the book of memories for many quiet days to come.
2. The happiness of melancholy– ah, yes! This is probably why I love Romantic poets, American transcendentalists, Shakespeare, and so many more! I was lucky enough to have loved and kept, but I channel my need for melancholy by poetically longing for something– anything– that is tragically out of my reach, for poetic purposes only. This is probably why I am so in love with the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the aristocracy, and the ways of those who can never be, not in this age!
3. The happiness of flow– ah, yes! I experience that when I blog, when I jog, when I read, when I stare into the eyes of my beloved, and when I enjoy the beauty of nature or a museum. Swoon! I think it is so interesting that you point out how people like your husband and mother-in-law have the remarkable ability to turn the seemingly mundane into something wonderful. I was just thinking about this the other day, about how some people have this ability, while others let such magical moments go by unperceived as they stress over the minutiae of life. I was reminded of this when I asked a relative how was their Thanksgiving. They replied, “Meh, it was like any other day off. We stayed home, cooked, etc.” I thought, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is about? To stay home with one’s loved ones, eat, etc? I did the exact same thing, yet the way I described it was different because even though we did what we usually do, it wasn’t the same. Every day that we spend meaningful time together, whether it be once a week or once a year, ought to be cherished!
4. The happiness of gratitude– how can one feel otherwise? There is so much for which to be grateful, yet so much of it gets lost in other people’s criticism and idea of what one should have, rather than what one already has! I am so, so grateful for so many things, though I prefer to secretly give thanks because doing so openly is boastful in my opinion. However, even if it is the beauty of the sunshine, or a song, or anything– I feel grateful.
5. The happiness of meaning pretty much sums up what I said above. It is saying no to the social script and enjoying what matters to YOU and what YOU find meaningful. It means to see the wonder of even the mundane, as you mentioned.
I chose “Moderately Happy,” because as I said earlier, the glass is perennially half-full. And I like it that way.
Just an additional thought here…is it possible the findings that introverts are less happy is that perhaps introverts have a harder time finding like minded people to relate to because we are not out there physically as well as figuratively as much? I know I love being home and met a new friend recently when my husband became friends with her husband in a class they were taking together but the chance to meet people for me since I dislike social engagements even more as I get older is diminishing. Yet I do enjoy being with friends and meeting new stimulating people one on one.
That makes a lot of sense, Luna.
Wow! So much of this post describes me to a T – especially happiness of short social bursts followed by blissful solitude. I love a happy hour or a party now and then, but I can’t go out every night like some people I know. And I’m great at a one day conference, but I start to flag towards the middle of a second day – and if there’s a third day, I’m just done. I find short social bursts so energizing that I start to think I need more and more of them then suddenly I’m worn out and need a longer “recovery” period than I normally would. Definitely something to keep in mind during the busy holiday season.
Hi Susan, I came from Gretchen’s link.
I voted “extremely happy” which was not easy to do; but I made a commitment a few years back to being honest about my feelings and emotions. So despite internal voices about being undignified and uppity and premature because it might not last I chose to say how I was feeling. (Okay, that looks really weird in print.)
My experience has been that to some degree being happy is at least partly about choosing; choosing what I see, how I frame it, and how it relates to my total living experience. Until a few years ago I lived deeply entrenched in various cultures where being happy was considered suspect or at least optional.
A compounding issue for me was defaulting to “unhappy” when bad things happened or things I didn’t like or approve of happened (overly-simplified for brevity). It isn’t easy to look at a situation and my unhappy feelings and ask if it is really a source of unhappiness for me or am I mad/angry about it. I think culturally (and especially since the financial crash) that unhappy has become the safe default reaction because the default response to unhappiness is “that’s life, just suck it up.” Apparently we’ve gotten this notion that being unhappy requires no action of remediation but if we got mad or angry we’d have to choose between letting it stand or fixing whatever was wrong; and that is hard, scary, and uncomfortable.
A few years ago it started to dawn on me about being introverted (as opposed to antisocial) and beginning experimenting with various survival or coping tools to take care of my internal needs and still carry out my social commitments. As I have become a student of my own social actions and reactions I have also taken a side interest in others’. I have observed that some people “look” like extroverts on the surface but they have internal issues and or memories that seem to create difficulty in listening to their insides and they create this wall of chatter and activity to hide behind or within. I have found this group one of my most draining to interact with.
Something I have been percolating on is how as a culture that we tend to attach happiness to the idea/ideal of perfection, or ease, or getting one’s way. More and more I am finding for me that happiness is like a bubbling fountain that is always inside me but has variable speeds or water pressure. Sometimes it’s a low calming bubble and other times it’s a full-force undulating and drenching flow. But either way it is always washing – refreshing – my insides despite the surface friction and chaos of dealing with the rest of life and the world.
A word of advice my therapist gave when I was going through my divorce was “be careful about comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” Too often I can get discouraged with my process/progress and start questioning why I’m not doing as well as so and so based on what she appears to be “doing” and not what she’s thinking or saying on the inside. This is useful for me because I am very competitive.
Okay, this was a thought provoking (or maybe that’s thinking promoting) post and a lot of random connections have come up as well. So I will shut up and go back to listening.
“I voted “extremely happy” which was not easy to do; but I made a commitment a few years back to being honest about my feelings and emotions. So despite internal voices about being undignified and uppity and premature because it might not last I chose to say how I was feeling. (Okay, that looks really weird in print.)”
Actually, it makes perfect sense to me. I also have in the past had a hard time with letting my emotions be what they are. Emotional expression was not very highly thought of in my family when I was growing up, and I was always ashamed of the extremes of my emotions. (Being more T than F on the MBTI didn’t help.) But part of maturing is recognizing all those bits that make you you and letting them out so they can grow and mature as well.
“A word of advice my therapist gave when I was going through my divorce was ‘be careful about comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.’”
Oh, that’s good. And perhaps equally valuable would be, “Be careful about comparing your insides to other people’s insides.”
Thank you for “getting it.” I too grew up in a family (really a collective under an armed truce is more accurate) that shunned emotions and emotional expressions. The phrase “you don’t need to get so excited, it isn’t that big a deal” is deeply ingrained and usually the first thing that pops into my head when anything good or bad happens.
Of course it was/is more complex than one issue as both sides harbored unacknowledged alcoholics and infidelity, one side seems to have a strong leaning into the autism spectrum; and then I unknowingly married into multiple disorder mental illness. I seem to have the irritable neural network of the autism spectrum and certain sound frequencies and physical touches are actually painful that others find pleasant.
I completely agree about not comparing our insides to others’ insides when we have insight to them. The issue prompting the original caution had to do with seeing a common friend go through a divorce at the same time but asserting that she was fine, didn’t need anything, didn’t miss the life she thought and planned for now being destroyed. I was working through things and moving the process forward but many days the new reality as well as uncovering 35 years of lies while collecting information for the court took a big toll and there was little spare energy to do extra stuff. His point was that he doubted she was that okay on the inside (she was not his client).
I spent almost 3 years on my own getting to know me and learning how to create my own life in an apartment of my own. I had gone from campus to military wife. I had no identity growing up at home being mostly “in the way” and totally lost at university. In a positive way I made a career out of creating a person-hood for myself first as a wife and then as a mother of 4 children; through which I became my own parent and basically grew up alongside my children.
When I was first on my own I would ask myself every morning what I “wanted” to do because my whole life had revolved around what had to be done to hold things together. I went to free concerts, library lecture series, positive artsy things that did not require holding up my end of a conversation,and a faith-based divorce support group. Then I started volunteering for a nonprofit digging and planting an ecology rehab site which led to getting on the board and meeting my now current gentleman friend which I had no plan or hopes about figuring I was too old and twisted to be much in the way of companion material – so I was wrong about one thing.
I think that had I been an extrovert needing regular high energy social interaction those years might have been actually harder than they were but preferring solitude and comfortable entertaining myself at home on my own anyway I didn’t chafe at the scattered so-called friends, and the side-picking, and so forth.
I discovered your blog just today by way of Gretchen Rubin’s. I am an introvert from a family of extroverts. Your inspiring post explains me in ways I’ve never thought about before. I feel less the oddball today. I described myself as Moderately Happy because, though I feel like a happy person, I also feel like I could always be happier. Thanks for the inspiring post! What a great way to start the day (my birthday actually).
I am an introvert and voted extremely happy.
Needing downtime after socializing is something I realized a long time ago. Constantly being around people is not how I recharge my battery. Looking out my kitchen window at the woods behind my house is one way I recharge. There is so much beauty in the woods all year long.
I have been unemployed for 2 1/2 years and when applying for jobs, they ask about hobbies. Mine are reading, photography, listening to music and playing with my golden retriever. Well those are solitary hobbies and I am sure my answers have played a role in whether or not I get an interview.
Why did this introvert vote extremely happy? It’s been 3 1/2 years since my husband suddenly passed away. After getting through my grief, I was jumping for joy. I had successfully dealt with one of life’s most painful events and that raised my happiness level a lot.
By the way, I found this site while reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” blog. So glad I clicked on the link. This is a wonderful site.
I can relate to your feeling of happiness after grief, Michele. Earlier this year I experienced 6 months of debilitating, suicidal and psychotic depression, where I was either catatonic or paralyzed with fear and experienced horrible side effects (time basically stopped for a week, and then I walked constantly for three weeks). During that period, I was able to laugh, to be grateful, to love, and to be happy for the fact that at the very least, the day was over and I had made it through. I have an immense feeling of satisfaction and thankfulness (to my family, to my doctors, to the universe) that I made it through, and my wedding day this July was doubly happy since it could have been so much more sad. I answered “extremely happy” and I am.
Bronwen, You can indeed relate to my grief experience. So sorry you had to go through such an awful depression. Obviously you learned a lot during that time. Experiencing awful things is,in part,how we become a better person.
I am happy and thankful you made it through your depression. May God bless you and your spouse with a long, happy and healthy life together. I pray you never experience depression again.
What a great discussion. I also view happiness very different from most people. For me it is a sort of contentment. The highs and lows of life are probably my least favorite. When I am in a “high point” I almost feel like those around me expect way too much emotional expression from me. I usually look inward at these moments and celebrate a deep satisfaction rather then an outward display of joy. My “joy” moments look different because they are quiet and I find myself experiencing a wonderful inner peace. Happiness is so abstract. I can be really happy over a great cup of coffee. For that moment I am truly happy.
“When I am in a “high point” I almost feel like those around me expect way too much emotional expression from me. I usually look inward at these moments and celebrate a deep satisfaction rather then an outward display of joy.”
I love that. Sometimes it is hard to express outwardly those most vivid things. I kind of want to treasure them inwardly, and sometimes the more I feel something, the less I want to express it outwardly.
I loved reading through the comments on this post. Many of them expressed things I have experienced and felt myself.
If I had encountered this article two and a half years ago, I would have said “Extremely happy.” Now I put “Moderately happy,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. Circumstances often contribute to one’s level of happiness, and back then I was in a situation that enlivened and energized me, Christian further education. Going to class, learning things, getting into deep discussions about what we learned, reading theology and psychology books, and then getting to work by myself in the back of the library were all just about the best situation I can think of for me. Now I am away from school, and I am moderately happy but not so enlivened and joyous. I have a natural bent toward happiness and content; I can always find a way to get away from what is unhappy or uncomfortable and immerse myself in what makes me glad, like reading or writing or cooking. The happiness of quiet contentedness is very important to me.
I’m glad you mentioned the happiness of melancholy. I’m not really a melancholy person, but I have in my twenties begun to recognize how much I love beautiful melancholy. Not really dark, depressing things–there’s a fine line that often depends on the person experiencing it between depressing and melancholic. But melancholy can make my brain feel very happy indeed. It’s kind of the happiness I experience when I’m learning something. It makes me feel imaginative and intense and alive. Chopin’s music does that for me, as do movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Inseparable.”
There’s a quote from a Doctor Who episode that expresses it perfectly. A character named Sally and her friend Kathy are exploring an old, crumbling, abandoned house, and Sally says, “I love old things. They make me feel sad.”
Kathy says, somewhat incredulously, “And sad is good?”
And Sally responds, “It’s like happiness for deep people.”
“Happiness for deep people” – not a very nice thing to say to the perennially chipper (enjoy Tim Minchin’s song “Dark Side” for the other side of this coin), but I know what you mean!
My husband teases me because the music I like best is melancholy. He calls it “sleepy.” But listening to a sad, quiet song like Kate Rusby’s “Let the Cold Wind Blow” *does* generate a kind of deep happiness.
I have always loved Chopin, too, Christy!
I rated my happiness as “extremely happy,” not because all of my life is a succession of the short bursts of exuberance I feel over a blue October sky or fall color splotching the mountain, but because I have contentment over who I am and what my life and relationships are–far from perfect, but having parts I can embrace. I can also accept the imperfections and even trials of my life without feeling they make me unhappy. Much of this outlook comes from maturity and experience, with a strong foundation of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, my unity of purpose and fellowship with other believers, and my growth through Bible reading, prayer, and service to others.
By the way, I am an introvert by nature who has adapted my lifestyle to my extroverted husband. We have become adept at fulfilling both his need for constant socializing and my need for periodic solitude.
i voted moderately happy, but most happiness i experience is definitely happiness of flow. it’s good to know such a thing exists; my brow is always furrowed when i think, study, and so on, giving everyone the impression that i’m angry and hostile (trying to convince anyone that i’m just losing myself in my thoughts rarely works, though). it’s more enjoyable than i can explain, really, perhaps in the sense that progress is a sort of stretching whatever happiness i’m experiencing to last as long as possible. and it works, too. there’s a real pleasure in working.
[...] a very thought-provoking post about introverts and happiness over on Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts [...]
Thank you for this blog. I answered moderately happy (and doing so felt like a positive thing). I thought about it and considered moderately unhappy, but that did not seem to fit as well. 2 years ago I would have said extremely unhappy so progress has been made! May be the fact that I am an introvert (I think) has helped me to cope with the events that made (and still make) me unhappy in a way that life around me was able to continue with little disruption and even most of those closest to me did not know how I felt.
I am fairly certain I am an introvert but am interested to see that a) I am the only person who is not sure and b) no extroverts have responded. I suspect that extroverts are less common than we might think? I wonder, if you asked my colleagues, and even some of my family, whether they would describe me as an extrovert or an introvert. I certainly don’t think you would get a clear cut response. I do know however that many of the things I have read here resonate strongly with me. And I love Leonard Cohen.
I am an introvert as well as a highly sensitive person and I voted as an extremely happy person.I did that because I laugh much more than I cry and am a very content person in my life with my husband and 2 cats.I am not like an extroverted sister of mine who is always in”high gear”and loud but I am intensely and quietly happy.Joyful even.When I look in the mirror each day I smile and it is not because I am just so attractive I cannot help it.:)I am also an introvert who has a great sense of humor.But I have also always been very comfortable alone.I prefer quiet to loud,super stimulating environments.I have never moved to a new community and cried because I had not made friends right away like my extroverted sister has.I like people but the exhaust both me and my husband.I am often quiet and do not always feel the need to be talking.Husband and I both have been asked long before we ever met why the pictures we have taken had no people in them…big grin…and he and I both agreed that it’s because,to us,people would ruin the lovely nature(we just love God’s creation!:) shots we were trying to capture on film.Both of us can be social when we have to be but are happiest at home,in our apartment with our two cats.So,I know we’re both introverts in the traditional sense of the word in spite of the how things may appear to others at times.Our lives require us to”out there”sometimes but we escape to a quiet,restful place as soon as possible(we long to live out in the country but are city dwellers at present)That’s how we recharge our batteries.
Asking, “What kind of happy are you” is a strange question, because it
implies that we have a constant level of happiness/unhappiness.
That’s like asking what kind of weather my hometown has. The weather is sometimes sunny and warm, sometimes cold and wet, sometimes cool and windy, etc). It changes from day to day and month to month. Sometimes it changes from hour to hour!
Likewise, in the course of a single day a person’s happiness level
is likely to fluctuate between unhappy (I don’t want to get out of bed
yet!) to happy (my best friend is coming to visit!) to unhappy (the
dog is chewing on my shoe again!) to happy (that lasagna smells great!).
My personal belief is that happiness is the perception that things
are heading in the right direction.
You could have two people with
identical financial situations (broke, unemployed, living in their
brother’s basement) but if one has good prospects about getting
a job and the other person doesn’t have such prospects, the first
will feel happy while the second will feel unhappy. The reason
the first is happy is because it appears that his life seems to
be moving in a positive direction.
Or take two sisters. Sue has $3,000 in the bank, Mary has $0.00
in the bank and has $2,000 in debt. But Sue has no job prospects and expects to be
homeless within 3 months when that $3,000 runs out. She is
very unhappy because her life is moving in a negative direction.
Mary, on the other hand has just been hired for a good job and
anticipates that her financial situation is going to improve
steadily in upcoming monthes so she feels happy because her
life is moving in a positive direction.
Bottom line is that your current situation doesn’t determine
your level of happiness as much as your perception of whether
your situation is likely to improve or detiorate.
Hmm yeah that online poll doesn’t seem like it would bring in all that accurate of results. The very few amount of choices really doesn’t cover the range of happiness at all, and I think most would answer moderately happy out of the 4 choices (though I see that many here have voted extremely happy, which is great). Defining what happiness is according to that survey would help too, but then like John Zelenski said, there isn’t really a definition for happiness, much like there isn’t a definition for love. I think it’s hard to put a scale on happiness because each person has their own definition. Happiness is more about the way you feel about yourself and your life rather than any tangible, measurable thing. So I don’t know if a poll on happiness is really going to tell you a lot about people, though it can tell you which of the 4 they think fit them the best I suppose.
Today, I voted moderately happy. Not that long ago I would have voted moderately UNHAPPY. I think being aware of all forms of happiness (I find true happiness in all the types you listed) has allowed me to see my way of being in a more positive light. I used to think being outgoing and bubbly was happiness. For me, this was not my day to day state. I am much more likely to revel in flow mode or reflection. I am definitely an introvert.:)
I experience melancholy happiness although I never really thought of it that way. Perhaps it is more of a deep joy and love for life that comes from hearing a poignant song or reading a heart wrentching story. I definitely prefer music in the minor key. My daughter says my music is depressing but for me it is beautiful and actually lifts my spirit and energy.
Susan, your comment about the happiness of melancholy resonated perfectly with a concept in Japanese aesthetics, mono no aware, which also speaks to me as an introvert. The term means just about exactly what you described, as far as I understand it–the beauty of the transience of living things. I don’t speak Japanese; it’s something I learned about in a college course on Japanese history, but this link explains it well: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-aesthetics/#2
I think the Heian period of Japanese history, when mono no aware was very important as a sign that one was cultured, must have been very receptive to introversion. And perhaps not coincidentally, Japan has cold winters. From the above site: “The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love of cherry blossoms, as manifested by the huge crowds of people that go out every year to view (and picnic under) the cherry trees. The blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees are intrinsically no more beautiful than those of, say, the pear or the apple tree: they are more highly valued because of their transience, since they usually begin to fall within a week of their first appearing. It is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the wistful feeling of mono no aware in the viewer.”
Rebecca, this is absolutely FASCINATING. I’m going to do a whole blogpost on cherry blossoms. Thx so much for sharing this. (Can I use your name to credit you for the info?)
[...] 2. Schubert Fantasy in F Minor, played by Sviatoslav Richter and Benjamin Britten : Listen to this if you related to my post on the happiness of melancholy. [...]
Hi Susan, go right ahead! I am glad you found it interesting.
I seek the happiness of Flow. But I don’t like the word ‘happy’. I don’t know what it means. Happiness is often used to mean an overt display of celebratory emotion as opposed to an internal feeling. A public display of happiness may reflect an internal happiness but it does not follow that a lack of external display reflects unhappiness just as the lack of yapping does not indicate a lack of thought (though I’m convinced that for a certain class of extraverts, this is true
I’m an introvert. I am content. Contentedness is what I seek. Happiness is something else. If I ever understand what it menas, I’ll know whether or not I want it.
[...] What Kind of Happy are You? by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts (December) It’s not an exultant kind of happiness. It feels more like a marveling at the fragile beauty of the human condition, and a pleasure in having someone articulate it so sensitively. [...]
[...] at math and have pretty poor attention to detail, is kind of weird to me) — I find myself in a flow state that’s simultaneously calming and energizing — not (can I say it again?) unlike [...]
[...] stays a big part of my life. (Add to that the fact that when I write, I often find myself in a flow state that leaves me feeling deeply [...]