Are Extroverts Really Happier Than Introverts?

Science insists that extroverts are happier, but some argue that the problem isn’t in personality but in the way we define happiness.

Are Extroverts Really Happier Than Introverts?
[Image: Flickr user Barry Pousman]

Here comes another study saying that extroverts are happier than introverts.


In June 2014, The Journal of Research in Personality will publish “Why Extraverts are Happier: A Day Reconstruction Study” by Wido G.M. Oerlemans and Arnold B. Bakker from Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Netherlands. In this study, the researchers asked introverts and extroverts to report their recollection of how they felt during various activities. Overall, extroversion equals more happiness, the researchers found.

Of course, this is a refrain we’ve heard before. In 2012, the Journal of Personality published research finding that introverts are happier when they act more like extroverts. The following year, The Journal of Research in Personality found that young extroverts were likely to be happier 40 years later.

But the findings by Bakker and Oerlemans are somewhat more nuanced than previous studies. Oerlemans says that, initially, researchers believed extroverts had stronger responses to all positive situations. But what they found was that introverts and extroverts reported similar levels of happiness during “pleasurable” situations–watching television, listening to music, and relaxing, for example. However, extroverts reported being much happier than introverts during social activities and those where some reward was attached, such as winning in a sports competition or working for a financial reward. Combine the two–rewarding activities done in a group–and the happiness level rose even higher among extroverts.

“Unfortunately for introverts, [extroverts report being happier] across a great number of situations and activities, and also they are happier with their lives as a whole,” Oerlemans says.

Former corporate attorney and introversion expert Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, says this might be less about who’s happier and more about how we define happiness.


She agrees that extroverts get more of a charge from reward-based activities–anything from a new business deal to seeing an attractive stranger across the room. But she says there is a bias among psychologists and in many cultures to view happiness as an “activated” state, such as being giddy or excited, as opposed to seeing happiness as peacefulness, contentment, or “flow”–that feeling of being in the moment and being energized and focused. Cain believes flow is “among the highest states of being.”

“I hear from thousands and thousands of introverts. When they talk about the things that they most love to do, it’s very often activities like reading, hiking, cycling, being with their spouses, being with their children. It’s a quieter type of contentment that often fuels introverts and that we don’t pay proper attention to,” she says.

In addition, introverts may be more introspective, she says. So, while an extrovert may have an experience and overlook the flaws–the party was fun, but the food wasn’t very good, and the music was too loud–the introvert may pay closer attention to the details and give a more accurate after-the-fact appraisal of how happy he or she actually was during the experience.

Oerlemans maintains there is consensus, at least among psychologists, that extroverts are happier across a greater number of situations. Still, he admits that more research is needed to determine why that is so. Also, he says his research has shown him that only about half of one’s predisposition to happiness is affected by introversion versus extroversion. The other half is determined by how you live your life and whether you’re making choices that lead you toward the life you want to be leading, such as getting married, having children, or working in a certain field, if those are things you desire.

“By making the right choices and by getting a lifestyle that actually suits your needs, you can still become happier with your life as a whole,” he says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.