As the COVID case count has begun to fall in the US and the vaccination rate has risen, I’ve started contemplating what it will be like to return to a life that is more in-person than at-home. This is in many ways a welcome relief. But not-so-deep inside me, there’s also a cozy little introvert pulling the covers over her head, bracing for reentry into a society that seems to place a premium on extraverted behavior. I’ve been wondering how to nurture the wellbeing of this “cozy little introvert” as she encounters increasing demands on her social energy, as well as pressure to act more lively, outgoing, charismatic, and available. I suspect that many are wondering the same thing as they contemplate reentry into typical campus life.
Being an introvert in college can be difficult, but helpfully, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has summarized a number of recent studies looking at the relationship between introversion and wellbeing and points out a few helpful pathways to cultivating wellbeing in college introverts. I hope you’ll take the time to read the article (it’s an engaging and easy read), but I’m going to highlight a few of my favorite insights:
Simply “acting extraverted” does increase positive emotions. For college introverts, however, that increase is much smaller and accompanied by increased negative emotions, tiredness, and feelings of inauthenticity.
A recent study found that personality characteristics of enthusiasm, low withdrawal, grit, compassion, and curiosity strongly predicted wellbeing. College introverts can cultivate these qualities in their own quiet way to enhance their wellbeing as typical life resumes.
Extraversion is more strongly related to greater happiness and self-esteem when a person’s level of extraversion matches their society’s average level of extraversion. Relatedly, in an academic setting where extraverted behavior is particularly valued and rewarded, introverted students report feeling like underperforming outsiders.
Although large proportions of both introverts and extraverts believe it’s necessary to display extraverted characteristics, introverts who are comfortable with their introversion experience similar levels of happiness to their extraverted counterparts. With these things in mind:
This introvert is eager to listen to your thoughts. For my own part, I plan to remind myself that the solitary, contemplative practices in my life (journaling, restorative yoga, reading) continue to be just as valuable as more socially active behaviors, despite the environmental pressure I’ll surely feel to forego the former in favor of the latter.
Laura Hix is a Research Scientist with the Wake Forest University Wellbeing Assessment. She is also a certified yoga instructor and holds degrees in psychology, theatre, and drama therapy. Laura enjoys writing about mental health and wellbeing and exploring how they are related to creative and contemplative practices.