28 June 2009

Party on the patio

The phone rang early and woke me (my loud and extraverted friend R., Our Lady, Queen of the Pugs). So, I staggered out to the kitchen, got myself a cup of coffee and looked at the news.

Not unsurprisingly, five minutes later, I was deeply absorbed in a report of a longitudinal study about happiness.

I see the smiles of the knowing few.

(They're not smiling about the content, but about the fact the I'd be reading a longitudinal study with my first cup of coffee.)

Really, it's an incredibly interesting article, so I think everyone should read it, not only for what it says about the study and about the very nebulous concept of happiness, but for what it says about the researchers as well as those researched.

What Makes Us Happy? by Joshua Wolf Shenk. The Atlantic, June 2009.

Then, when you've finished that, you should read Caring for Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch. It was so much fun (and so very true) that I had to print out a copy for everyone in the family to read. The giggles and laughter provoked by the reading were almost as much fun to listen to as reading the article itself.

When I was growing up, people unable to understand my quietness pronounced me shy. As I got older, "shy" turned to "stuck up," which was sort of horrifying, and later, it became "haughty." With the rare exception, I'm anything but shy. I can get up on stage, sing, dance, talk to people, and I have no problem with making my views known. As to the "stuck up" and "haughty," others have the mistaken notion that I keep quiet because I think I'm superior. Truthfully, I keep quiet because I stink at small talk.

Introvert? To the nth degree.

At Big Entertainment Company, there was always some management game going on, a push for reengineering or better understanding our colleagues or efficiency. One of these ploys was Myers-Briggs testing. I loathed situations like this: I actually had work to do and would have rather done it than sit around and play Hot Potato, or whatever nonsense had been dreamed up for us. So, I stalwartly refused to show up for testing until someone appeared in my office claiming to have orders to pick me up and carry me to the appropriate room if I failed to comply, which would have been sort of fun to see, since I'm nearly 6 feet tall. I finally went, sat down and made quiet, but highly disapproving noises about the whole thing, earning the wrath of the tester.

But her wrath dissipated with scoring my test. Because the test explained everything! Not only did I end up in a Myers-Briggs group that only about 1% of the population lands in, but I was the highest scoring introvert she'd ever seen.

Alrighty then!

Although Rauch's article is quite tongue in cheek, he's quite right about how exhausting it is for this introvert to be in certain social situations. It doesn't bother me to spend time on my own, and in fact, I find it energizing. I'm perfectly comfortable with going to a movie solo or having a meal by myself or visiting a museum. And I'm lucky to have an amazing group of friends with whom I also enjoy spending time, having a meal, sharing a cup of coffee or a movie or an afternoon in the park. I find my friends energizing, too. You want to get to know me? Take a walk with me by the river. You want to watch me shrivel up and die? Put me in a situation where I'm expected to interact with a large group of people I don't know or don't know well. I don't do well in artificial situations with masses of people who want me to make small talk.

My extravert friends have learned this, along with learning that I am most likely to disappear on to the patio during their parties. But they've learned they get good value from me anyway.

Their other introvert friends find me highly entertaining.

And I am happy.

Party on the patio!

Go listen to some music: "Party on the Patio" from the album El Loco by ZZ Top. The upshot of the happiness article, in part, was that happiness has to do with how and with whom you share your life. I'm lucky to share my life with some glorious people, including my family and my incredibly loved friends. So it's funny: my kids are also introverts, but around me they behave like extraverts. And that is driving me in the general direction of an airplane...

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