How Introverts Survive in an Extroverted World

Self-acceptance is the key to happiness as an introvert. pathdoc/Shutterstock

In cultures where being outgoing or being the first one to speak up is valued, it can be tough for introverts to stand out, let alone feel like they're contributing.

This can result in introverts having low levels of happiness with their lives, a sense that they simply don't belong in a society that values boldness, activeness and outward displays of cheerfulness. Introverts may then attempt to try and be extroverted, and this can exacerbate their unhappiness.

It doesn't have to be like this, however. A study from the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne found that introverts who are comfortable with their personality are able to achieve a sense of well-being close to many extroverts who thrive in extrovert-centric cultures.

It's good to be you

For the study, published in October in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers asked 349 people between the ages of 18 and 61 to to place themselves on an introversion-extroversion continuum. After they did that, researchers then had the participants select where they would ideally like to be on that continuum.

The majority of the participants, 53.6 percent, wanted to be more extroverted than they ranked themselves, and that is understandable based on other findings in the study. Ninety-six percent of the participants thought that extroverted characteristics were more valued in society — specifically Australian society in this case — than introverted traits, and just over 82 percent of people believed that displaying extroverted behavior was necessary in their daily lives.

This discrepancy between where people placed themselves on the continuum and the expectation of extroverted behavior created a "extroversion deficit" that led to some introverted people feeling unhappy with their lives, something researchers noticed when the participants also ranked their sense of well-being. By having to deny their true personalities to better thrive in society, the introverts were not being authentic, which causes unhappiness.

To thine own self be true

This feeling of unhappiness did not hold true for all introverts in the study, however. Introverts whose placement on both the personal and ideal scales roughly matched one another showed higher levels of authentic satisfaction and well-being with their lives, roughly on par with the well-being experienced by participants who scored themselves high on the extrovert side of the scale.

Basically, to thine own self be true is good advice, even if it's not exactly the context Polonius intended.

The researchers suggest that the easiest way for introverts to be happier in an extroverted world is to simply accept who they are and be real about it while interacting with others.

"Introverts who can learn to be more comfortable with their place on the introversion-extraversion continuum, for example, better thrive in our schools, universities, and workplaces despite the fact that in the West, these institutions are often geared toward extraverted behavior," the researchers wrote. "We speculate that introverts might learn to become more comfortable with their own introversion in these environments by focusing on eudaomonic concepts such as maintaining a positive attitude toward oneself, and cultivating good character and practicing more self-acceptance, and developing their 'signature strengths'."