Today I want to talk to you about social life. The media is full of advice on how social connections make us happier and healthier, and the media is right. But there are many different KINDS of social connection – and what works for introverts is very different from what works for extroverts. In fact, I’ve spent the last five years researching the surprising advantages of being an introvert in an extroverted world for my book, Quiet– though in some ways, I’ve been researching it all my life.
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
Here are five glorious ways to socialize without feeling burned out:
1. Read: Marcel Proust once said that reading is “that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” Books transcend time and place. They don’t even require reader and writer to be alive at the same time. Studies also suggest that reading fiction increases empathy and social skills.
2. Enter a state of “flow” by doing work or a hobby that you love. Flow is the transcendent state of being, identified by influential psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You’re in flow when you feel totally engaged in an activity – whether long-distance swimming or song-writing or ocean sailing. In a state of flow, you’re neither bored nor anxious, and you don’t question your own adequacy. Hours pass without your noticing. In flow, says Csikszentmihalyi, “a person could work around the clock for days on end, for no better reason than to keep on working.”
Flow is my three-year old playing with his trucks, sometimes accompanied by his best friend, sometimes not – time seems to float by as he lies contentedly on his stomach, watching the wheels go ‘round. Flow is my 80 year old father, a medical school professor, sitting at his desk for hours reading medical journals. When I was a kid and saw how my father would come home from a long day at work, only to crack open those forbidding-looking papers, I worried that he worked too hard. Now I know that he was spending time the way he loved.
People in flow don’t tend to wear the broad smiles of enthusiasm that Fleeson’s research focused on. When you watch them in action, the words “joy” and “excitement” don’t come to mind. But the words “engagement,” “absorption,” and “curiosity” do.
3. Keep an informal quota system of how many times per week/month/year you plan to go out to social events — and how often you get to stay home. This way, you don’t feel guilty about declining those party invitations. When you do go out, hopefully you’ll have a good time and make a new friend you wouldn’t have met in your lamp-lit living room. The right party can be a delicious experience. But when you don’t enjoy yourself, you’re less likely to drive yourself crazy thinking you should’ve stayed in. Your night was what it was, and that’s fine.
4. Have meaningful conversations. Pleasant chit-chat with the grocery clerk notwithstanding, research suggests that the happiest people have twice as many substantive conversations, and engage in much less small talk, than the unhappiest. (The researchers were surprised by their findings, but if you’re an introvert, you’re probably not!)
5. Shower time and affection on people you know and love — people whose company is so dear and comfortable that you feel neither over-stimulated nor anxious in their presence. If you don’t cast your social net too wide, you’re more likely to cast it deep — which your friends and family will appreciate.
Yes, love is all you need. But love takes many forms.