Are you an “innie” or an “outie”? There has been a lot published over the years, and recently, about the personality traits of introversion and extroversion. These are personality traits that behavioral health professionals believe people are born with, and neither is necessarily “good” or “bad”. In fact, evidence from twin studies suggests that personality traits like extroversion and introversion are inherited (Eyseneck, 1956). We all have our preferred ways of interacting with the world around us, and it’s helpful to understand these preferences and how they affect us. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed a theory that helps us identify eight basic personality traits that are intrinsic within a person, with varying degrees of strength or intensity.
These traits are part of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment tool. The traits include: Introversion/Extroversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. There are a total of 16 possible personality types, resulting from these eight domains. These personality preferences are evident in our interactions with others, as well as our choice of vocation, and hobbies (My MBTI Personality Type, 2014). Introversion, in particular, has been misunderstood. Perhaps that’s because introverts are relatively rare in the United States, with only 25-30% of the total population preferring a life of quiet and solitude. Conversely, introverts may feel much more at home in a country like Japan, where introversion is valued, and even expected (Hinnant, 2012).
Some might conclude that people who are introverted are shy, withdrawn, socially awkward “wallflowers” who may even be a bit depressed. Extroverts tend to be seen as socially skilled, happy, and often the life of the party. But there is much more to the story. The qualities of introversion and extroversion have more to do with what gives a person energy, and what drains them. It’s about their preference for the internal world of thoughts and feelings, versus the external world of action and other people. People who are more introverted may often have some of these characteristics:
They get energy from the ideas, images, memories, and responses going on in their own head.
They prefer doing things alone, or with just one or two other people they feel comfortable with. They can feel very drained and exhausted by extended periods of interaction with other people, and need down-time to recharge their batteries.
They enjoy ample time alone to reflect, so they can have a clear idea about how they want to respond. They often want to think things through before they speak or act.
They lives in the world of ideas, which is often more real to them than the outside world of reality.
They are generally comfortable being alone and like activities they can do on their own.
They may be easily distracted, and prefer quiet and less stimulating environments
They may be very uncomfortable with “chit-chat”, and prefer more goal-oriented conversations.
They prefer to have a few very close friends than numerous more superficial relationships.
They sometimes spend too much time in thought and reflection, and not enough time in action.
People who are introverted may be great public speakers, but dread the mingling and networking at the end of the talk. They can come across as reserved or even aloof, but introversion is not the same as being shy or withdrawn, which is more of an anxious state of mind. Introverts are often just as happy as extroverts, but for different reasons.
Introverts and Happiness
To the outside world an introverted person may seem sad, unhappy, anxious, or depressed. Frequently, this is a misunderstanding by a population that is mostly extroverted. It can be very difficult for an extroverted person to understand the introvert’s need for quiet time alone, and their avoidance of parties and other social events that are fun for the extrovert. Extroverts get energized by other people and lots of interaction, while introverts get drained and exhausted. Long hours at home alone would be boring for an extrovert, while this would be a treat for an introvert. While introversion is not the same as shyness or depression, is there a difference between introverts and extroverts when it comes to happiness? It depends.
Some studies have found that extroverts tend to be happier than introverts, but we have to consider how the studies were conducted and cultural factors, as well. Many studies measure “happiness” by using activities that involve socializing and interaction with the outside world, which are the comfort-zones of the extrovert. Naturally, they will be happier in these situations. Introverts can and often do enjoy being around others, but prefer low-key activities with smaller groups of people (Buettner, 2014). The studied may not account for this, which may cause introverts to seem less happy.
Culture can also affect the happiness of both introverts and extroverts. In the West, extroversion is more valued and understood, as the majority of people are extroverted. People who appear friendly, act quickly, and are outgoing tend to be favored. This can put a lot of pressure on someone with a more introverted nature. They may push themselves to be more extroverted as they try to fit in and compete. Introverts may feel more accepted and less pressured in cultures (like Japan) that encourage people to be more serene, quiet, and reflective (Buettner, 2012).
Introverts and Work
Many workplace environments are fast-paced and full of meetings and other types of interactions with others, which can leave an introvert feeling frenzied and frazzled. In these settings, the extrovert may have the advantage, but introverts make valuable contributions and often bring balance to the high pressure workplace. Introverts can thrive in any workplace if they just remember to follow a few simple tips:
- Reduce the noise: Close the office door, or wear headphones to limit distraction. for
- Set boundaries for your interactions with colleagues: Let people know (if possible) that you prefer email to phone conversations. Find a place to work where there will be minimal interruptions. Schedule meetings so that there is down-time in between
- Recognize the need for rest and re-charging: After a long meeting or a big presentation, take time to re-charge. This is essential for an introvert to keep giving 100%. Time with peers is important, but make this quality time instead of quantity time
- Work with, instead of against, your natural temperament: It’s tough to force a square peg into a round hole, right? Seek out vocations and job settings that are a good fit with your temperament. Introverts often flourish as writers, graphic designers, accountants, or computer programmers. They tend to like jobs that enable them to work on their own, at a pace that is comfortable for them.
- Understand the strengths that come with introversion: Introverts tend to be observant, and ask good questions that others haven’t thought about. They will see different perspectives, and can be counted on to think things through before acting (Pepper-Wu, 2014).
Both introverts and extroverts can have very successful and satisfying careers and relationships, if they understand and work with their basic temperaments. Often, when a job feels like it’s just not the right fit it’s because it goes against a person’s basic temperament. Too often, introverts feel as though something is wrong with them, like they are different and don’t fit it. They just don’t understand why they don’t enjoy the same things that others enjoy. It’s essential for us to understand and value our own unique personality preferences because as the very famous introvert, Gandhi, once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” (Pepper-Wu, 2014).
Buettner, D. (2012, May 14). Are extroverts happier than introverts? Retrieved August, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thrive/201205/are-extroverts-happier-introverts
Eyseneck, H. J. (1956). The inheritance of extraversion-introversion [Abstract]. Acta Psychologica, 12. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0001691856900105
Hinnant, P. (2012, April 6). Introversion across cultures. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http%3A%2F%2Fnaryordinary.com%2Fintroversion-across-cultures-by-phillip-hinnant%2F
My MBTI personality type. (2014). Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/