Secret Confessions of an Introvert

Is positive psychology unwittingly packaging the extravert ideal as happiness? Here’s the thing…as introverts read the positive psychology rhetoric on happiness, I believe there is a real chance they will feel increasingly alienated. As an introvert myself, when I launched into Sonia Lyubomirsky’s ‘How of Happiness’ I found myself becoming more and more disenfranchised and agitated by statements such as:

  • Happier people are more sociable
  • Happier people are more likely to have a large circle of friends
  • People who are inclined to savour were found to be more extraverted

There is a danger in positive psychology that we get drawn into a mindset that equates happiness with gregariousness. So my plea is – let’s not confuse the two! Introverts can be happy, they just don’t need to be ‘living it up’ with a large group of people to prove it.

Caving in to Culture

With so much of positive psychology emanating from western culture (in particular the USA), I wonder if we are sufficiently mindful of the possible cultural bias to view extraversion as good and introversion as bad.

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain suggests western culture values boldness, verbal skill and individuality, (aligning to extravert characteristics) and compares this to Asian culture which values quiet, humility and sensitivity (aligning more closely to introvert characteristics).

She draws on research from Kaufman when she poses the idea the Asian tradition of honouring relationships and avoiding embarrassing others may explain why that Tibetan Buddhist monks find inner peace and ‘off-the-chart happiness levels’, by ‘meditating quietly on compassion’.

Is it possible that in western society we are interpreting happiness in terms of responses to extravert related events and desires? Whilst, in reality, deep happiness is also to be found in less gregarious activities that are more in tune with introvert characteristics.

The elephant in the room…

When Cain states that ‘One third to fifty percent of Americans are introverts yet America is among the most extraverted of nations’ we get a flavour of how extravert values are perhaps skewing reality. Positive Psychology is heavily influenced by the work of Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, I question what impact this has had on how Positive Psychology is been marketed, sold and justified?

So I let me point to the elephant in the room…
“How much are we in positive psychology letting western culture influence our interpretation of where real happiness is to be found? “

As Cain suggests, culture is such an influence that there are closet introverts who ‘hide even from themselves’ in trying to achieve the ‘Extravert Ideal’.

About the Author: Una McGarvie lives with her three offspring, two cats, shelves of books and a cupboard full of jigsaws. She is the founder of MindSightUK providing management and leadership coaching and development to public and private sector organisations. She is also a contributing author to ‘The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook’.

Further Reading
Cain, S. (2012), Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. London: Penguin Books Ltd
Kaufman, M. (2005) Meditation gives brain a charge, study finds. Washington Post, January 3.
Cain S. (2012), Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. London: Penguin Books Ltd
Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The How of Happiness: A practical guide to getting the life you want. London: Piatkus.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

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