Over the years, numerous research studies have found a strong correlation between extroversion and happiness. In other words, extroverts tend to be happier than introverts.
The exact reasons for this are disputed. Initial theories suggested that extroverts are happier because they have a more effective ‘pleasure system’ in their brains. They therefore find fun activities more enjoyable than introverts. However, a more recent study in March 2014 found instead that extroverts have a more active ‘desire system’. According to the report, this means that extroverts, because of their active nature, ‘are more likely to seek and spend more time on rewarding activities’.
So what does this mean for introverts? Are we doomed to a life of limited happiness just because we’re not extroverts? That can’t be true, surely.
Some people have argued that research results are skewed because the way ‘happiness’ is described and measured in the studies is biased towards extrovert personalities. Participants are usually asked to rate themselves against statements such as ‘I like being with other people’ or ‘I know how to have fun’, which is unlikely to be the way we introverts would describe ourselves even if we consider ourselves happy. Introverts are more likely to describe happiness in less exuberant terms, such as a general feeling of contentment, peacefulness, well-being or fulfilment, but these do not conform to the standard image of what a ‘happy’ person should look like, typically sociable, fun-loving, talkative and bouncing with energy. Introverts are more low-key by definition because we function best in less stimulating environments – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are not happy.
I believe there is also another important reason why introverts consistently come out worse in the happiness stakes. Our Western culture has come to revere extrovert personality traits as the ideal we should all aspire to, in work, love and life – we live in an extrovert-oriented world. As such, many introverts grow up believing there is something wrong with us because we fall short of this standard. Very few introverts understand until much later in life, if at all, that being an introvert is actually perfectly normal. But by then the damage is done and a life-time of striving to be something you’re not has taken its toll. No wonder extroverts tend to be happier.
So until the day comes when introvert and extrovert qualities are given equal weight and validity in our society, the jury has to be out on which personality type is the happiest.