Party Poopers Have Fun, Too
Today we’re probing the extrovert-introvert divide on fun – seriously.
“Extroverts have more fun.”
When I read this in one of Rick Steves’s European guidebooks, I became indignant. What a slur on introverts! And how untrue! It brought to mind the smug advice given to introverts time after time: “Get over yourself.” “Don’t be a wimp.” “Just get out there.” “Come out of your shell.” In that mindset, introverts have themselves to blame for missing out on life’s great adventures. Steves’s idea seems to be that if you don’t go carousing with the locals, engaging strangers in vivacious chitchat, kicking up your heels in accordance with the local customs, you won’t experience the magic of travel. Indeed, you won’t really have lived.
Some introverts buy these exhortations and others don’t. I’ve critiqued them and argued that introverts have different inclinations from extroverts – preferences that deserve to be respected. When it comes to travel, introverts are unlikely to barge into a pub someplace where we’ve never been, buy everyone there a round of drinks and start an international singing contest with the locals. We may instead get talking quietly yet intensely with the person next us on a plane or train and have that be a mind-expanding, smile-inducing experience.
Do Extroverts Really Have More Fun?
Still, is there anything at all in Steves’s claim? Let’s start with the definition of fun. If fun consists of gleeful play, boisterous pleasures, upbeat table-hopping and uninhibited commotion, then extroverts were born for that type of interaction. Of course they’d have more of it, while traveling or at home. But suppose we shear off the social element and define fun as just explosive delight, an in-the-moment, devil-may-care ebullience that crowds out worries, self-consciousness and fears. Then clearly it’s possible to have fun that doesn’t involve social interaction – introverted fun.
I once sat down and listed unique highs I’d experienced while traveling. They included these:
During a road trip to Alaska and Western Canada, we pulled our car over at a signpost marking the Arctic Circle. I got out of the car, thrilled to my fingertips and toes. The very idea of having reached this spot had me bursting with excitement. For miles around, not one other person or vehicle could be seen or heard.
In Hawaii, I was swimming in the ocean when a giant sea turtle cruised along right beneath me. Although I was to experience this countless times afterwards, the first time it filled me with blissful astonishment. This involved just me, the sea water and that oversized yet graceful creature.
On a camping tour in the Sinai Desert, I woke up in the middle of the night and walked around alone beside a colossal sand dune shimmering in a half-dim, half-sparkly sort of light I’d never encountered before. Afterwards I realized the illumination came from a full moon, but at the time I stood for many minutes in mute admiration and puzzled awe.
Not one of these examples included other people as an essential ingredient. I would challenge Rick Steves to demonstrate that his interactions while traveling outrank my introverted travel highs in intensity or significance.
With that said, investigators tell us that brain chemistry differs in extroverts and introverts. Extroverts seek neurochemical pleasure from risk, novelty and social stimulation. Introverts find the level of stimulation that extroverts enjoy overwhelming for themselves and instead seek calm, relaxation and contentment. In my daily life, I actually don’t aim at the kind of peak experiences I mentioned above. They stick out in my memory because they’re rare and take me by surprise. So what does that mean for Steves’s pro-extrovert argument?
Because of the difference in brain chemistry and the accompanying difference in psychological goals, it’s very tricky to say who’s happier, extroverts or introverts. Although some research seems to show that extroverts are decidedly happier than introverts, those studies tend to define happiness the way extroverts do, making their claim circular. That is, extroverts come out as happier in the studies not because of any kind of objective data but because extroverts, introverts and the researchers are using extroverts’ concept of happiness as their benchmark. The same issue complicates the question of who has the most fun.
In fact, there isn’t any way to measure happiness – or fun – apart from asking people to rate what they feel. And that in turn depends on their ideas of themselves and on the meaning they give to various activities. For example, an athlete might say racing through an obstacle course was great fun even though they hurt themselves and ended up covered in blood and mud. The competitor beside them might say that for them the race wasn’t fun at all. On a battlefield, someone mortally wounded might say they were dying happy because they were defending their country. For the flip side of that, an example of a successful person who while dying decided his life had been hollow and meaningless, read Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Illyich.
In the end, extroverts and introverts shouldn’t try to battle this out or declare one type superior to the other. Each of us should look to satisfy our own formula for well being. Beli Ya Al put it nicely in an article in Antigone:
“We don’t all need to be under the spotlight, and I am actually glad to leave it to those who enjoy it. I am happier living a quiet, unassuming life. It’s not very sexy. It’s not novel worthy. But all in all, that’s how I feel happiest.”
How about you?
Three articles by me on introverts:
Fast Company: 4 ways to better respect and support your introverted colleagues
All Business: Marketing to Introverts: 8 Strategies to Avoid
JuliaOra Small Business News: Humans, Not Numbers: One-on-One Marketing Succeeds for Introverts