If you’re introverted and unhappy, encourage yourself to be an extrovert – you’ll be happier for it. That’s the finding of a new study, anyway.
It sounds counterintuitive – forcing someone to behave uncharacteristically doesn’t feel like a good way to boost their mood – but the results bear it out.
Researchers from the University of California Riverside asked 123 students to spend a week being as “talkative,” “assertive,” and “spontaneous” as they could. They were then asked to spend a week being “deliberate,” “quiet,” and “reserved”.
The words, for both weeks, were chosen to be as emotionally neutral as possible, to avoid the more flattering language associated with extroversion.
On all measures of wellbeing, the students were happier after the week spent as an extrovert – regardless of their ‘natural’ state.
Is it as simple as that? Faking it until making it?
“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behaviour is a realisable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extroverted way improves wellbeing,” said the paper’s co-author, Sonja Lyubomirsky.
In fact, she said the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that a manipulation to increase extroverted behaviour “substantially improved wellbeing”.
“Manipulating personality-relevant behaviour over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful,” she said.
Acting against your normal tendencies is easier said than done – the students in the study had email reminders every other day to make sure they kept at it. They were also young, which the paper’s authors acknowledge meant they were more malleable than older people in terms of deeply embedded habits.
There’s no word on how long the effects can last, but there’s definitely something compelling about it – at some point, will the ‘fake’, happy version simply become who you are? Is the secret to happiness just being louder and pretending to be confident? Might be worth a go.