Culture Clash

A few months ago my husband forwarded a Psychology Today article to me that does an excellent job of summarizing the modern introvert’s dilemma: whether one should adapt oneself to the prevailing culture’s penchant for loud and fast interaction, or stay true to one’s preferred mode of being. Either way, the introvert’s happiness level is likely to take a hit.

But that’s not always a problem for introverts, argues the author of the article, psychologist Laurie Helgoe. In fact, she says, introverts have less of a need for happiness to function well, and may even find it distracting when attempting various difficult tasks. That indifference to happiness may itself cause more unhappiness for the introvert, who is now even more at odds with the culture that values feeling good above all else. So what is an introvert to do in the face of this seeming contradiction?

A good place to start is with self-understanding, and Helgoe ably characterizes what makes an introvert different from an extrovert, and why those differences matter. She also reminds introverts (counting herself among them) that not all cultures hold the same values, citing Finland and East Asia as places whose cultural norms are more in line with introvert tendencies.

Thus armed with this information, introverts may be better able to recognize and question social mores that run counter to their best instincts. And instead of feeling like a fish out of water, introverts may realize that they prefer the air.

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