Are people happy because they’re extraverts, or are they extraverts because they’re happy?
Decades’ worth of research has shown that some people tend to enjoy their lives just a little bit more, experiencing higher highs and greater levels of momentary happiness than others. They’re called extraverts. In one study done by Wido G. M. Oerlemans and Arnold B. Bakker, they note:
“One of the most robust findings in personality research is that extraverts are happier than introverts.”1
Science has shown it, but what connects extraversion with happiness?
What Is an Extravert?
Like the other Big Five personality dimensions, extraversion is a dimension of personality that falls on a spectrum. Those who are more highly extraverted tend to be:
Extraversion is also associated with excitability. As an extravert, I can attest that we easily get excited about any number of things, and this is consistent with the extravert tendency to intentionally seek arousal and excitement. We like a lot of stimulation and find it energizing and enlivening, rather than draining.
Those with low extraversion, more commonly referred to as introverts, seem to have a diminished threshold for arousal. They don’t tend to get as jazzed up or actively attempt to seek the same level of stimulation and excitability as extraverts. They may even avoid it. Words like “mellow,” “reserved” and “introspective” more commonly describe introverts.
New Science on Extraversion
A few recent studies are taking a look at the extraversion dimension with fresh eyes, particularly the link between extraversion and happiness. Are extraverts actually happier? And if so, why? Is happiness, rather than sociability (as originally thought), the most essential element of extraversion?
It turns out that extraverts are indeed happier, and not just by a little bit. Happiness is so closely linked to extraversion that researchers are now suggesting that increased happiness levels might essentially sum up what it means to be an extravert after all. But why is this? What is it about extraverts that causes them to score so much higher on the happiness meter?
Why Are Extraverts Happier?
1. Extraverts Are Wired Differently
In short, it’s partly a biological thing. While it isn’t fully explained, researchers know that for extraverts, something in the brain gets more charged up and excited; the highs are simply higher.
For most of the things they do in life, whether in work or play, extraverts experience a higher level of happiness than their introvert counterparts when doing the same things. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more content than introverts, but rather that they do experience higher levels of in-the-moment happiness than introverts when performing the same activities in the same contexts.
2. Extraverts Know What Makes Them Happy
Extraverts are highly sensitive to activities, situations and contexts that produce a reward or some favorable outcome. Rewards, in this context, could include social interactions, work that is personally fulfilling and financially rewarding, exercise or sport, achieving a goal, creating art, etc.
This connects to the biological point mentioned above. Think of extravert and introvert brains as Microsoft Word. You have a document full of great things. When the extravert brain hits “save,” the document saves in full clarity and its exact location is remembered so that it can be opened and reopened again and again. There might even be a few popups and push notifications prompting one to reopen and have more fun.
When the introvert hits “save,” however, the file might get a little muddled. No one is exactly sure where it saved to, and whether or not it gets opened again is of no real importance. There are no push notifications. Although introverts may experience enjoyment and a sense of reward, it won’t “save” as deeply or effectively. They’re simply less sensitive to the reward experience.
3. Extraverts Go After What They Want
Because extraverts are so sensitive to high-reward situations, they’re highly motivated to pursue more of the same activities, which of course produces more happiness. Thus, one thing just naturally leads to another. They keep the momentum going and continue making more deposits in the happy account.
Introverts, on the other hand, may have experienced reward from some activity or context, but they generally won’t be quite as driven to pursue it again and again. They may even forget they enjoyed it the first time around when a similar situation or opportunity arises. They have less awareness of what really makes them happy and lower energy and drive for pursuing these rewarding situations.
4. Extraverts Know People = Happiness
Extraverts and social tendencies simply go hand in hand. And because social activity produces higher levels of happiness for all people—yes, introverts it’s true—extraverts reap more of the happiness harvest because they’re intentionally filling their time with social activity or bringing others into the experience of daily life.
Since introverts are less attuned to the reward produced by social interaction, they’ll also be less motivated to try to reproduce it. Extraverts, by contrast, are well aware that they enjoy social, collaborative environments and activities, so they prioritize them, thus raising their happiness quotient even more.
5. Because That’s What Being an Extravert Is All About
Happiness, more than sociability, may actually be the more central core of this personality dimension. It’s really a question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Are extraverts happier because they pursue the activities, people and life situations that boost happiness and excitability, or is there another reason these two qualities are associated? Science continues to investigate the mystery.
Stay tuned for more on the science of extraversion and introversion and how you can be happier no matter what your type is!
Oerlemans, W. G. M., & Bakker, A. B. (2014). Why extraverts are happier: A day reconstruction study. Journal of Research in Personality, 50, 11-22.
1 Oerlemans, W.G. M., & Bakker, A. B. (2014).