The introverts in your life need permission to remain quiet at times and to spend time alone — without a guilt trip.
I used to feel bad about being an introvert. I wished I could be more like my extroverted friends. They seemed to have no problem carrying on a conversation with anyone, at any time. They didn’t seem to get mentally and physically fatigued from socializing — and from life in general — like I did.
Later in life, when I began studying and writing about introversion, I learned that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Our brains are simply wired a little differently than those of extroverts. Our introverted minds process our experiences deeply, and we require alone time to feel our best. It’s science: Essentially, we introverts don’t need as much dopamine as extroverts do to feel satisfied. (Read more about the science behind why introverts love spending time alone.)
And, because of this wiring, we introverts need different things in life to be happy, compared to extroverts. Here are 12 of those things, which I explore more in my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts.
What an Introvert Needs to Be Happy
1. Plenty of time to wind down and process
Yes, we introverts need downtime after big parties and networking events to recharge our energy. But we also need downtime after “little” things, too. Because we’re wired to process ideas and events deeply, introverts may get very drained by, say, a stressful day at work, shopping in a crowded mall, or a heated conversation with a significant other. Time to unwind allows us to fully comprehend what we just experienced — and lower our stimulation level to one that’s more comfortable and sustainable. Without downtime, we’ll feel brain dead, irritable, and even physically unwell or tired.
2. Meaningful conversation
How was your weekend? What’s new with you? We “quiet ones” can do small talk (it’s a skill many of us have forced ourselves to learn), but that doesn’t mean we don’t absolutely loathe it. Many introverts crave diving deep, both in our interests and in our relationships. We need something more: What’s something new you’ve learned lately? How are you a different person today than you were ten years ago? Does God exist?
Not every conversation has to be soul-searchingly deep. Sometimes introverts really do just want to know what you did this weekend. But if we’re only fed a diet of small talk, we’ll leave the table still feeling like we’re starving. Without those intimate, raw, big-idea moments, we’ll be unhappy.
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3. Companionable silence
It may seem contrary to #2, but introverts also need people in their lives who are content with quiet. People who can sit in the same room with us, not talking, each of us doing our own thing. People who won’t nervously jump to fill a pause in the conversation but will let thoughts linger, waiting until ideas have been fully digested. Without periods of companionable silence, introverts just won’t be happy.
4. Space to dive deep into our hobbies and interests
17th century horror novels. Celtic mythology. Restoring old cars. Gardening, painting, cooking, or writing. If it’s out there, introverts are diving deep into it. Having time alone to focus on our hobbies and interests recharges us, because while absorbed in them, many of us enter an energizing state of flow. According to the famed psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, “flow” is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity and enjoying the process. A flow state comes naturally to many introverts, and without it, we won’t feel happy.
5. A quiet space that’s all ours
Admittedly, this is something that I don’t have right now, because my toddler son is the ultimate space-invader. Introverts absolutely need a private, quiet space to retreat to when the world is too loud. Ideally, it’s a room that we can arrange and decorate ourselves, and have full control over. Being fully alone, without fear of intrusion or interruption, is invigorating on a near-spiritual level for introverts.
6. Time to think
According to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage, introverts rely more on long-term memory than working memory (for extroverts, it’s the opposite). This might explain why we introverts struggle to put our thoughts into words. Although words seem to flow effortlessly for extroverts, introverts often need an extra beat to think before responding — or much longer to consider a bigger issue. Without time to process and reflect, introverts will feel stressed.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
7. People who understand that sometimes we’ll be staying home
For introverts, socializing is all about dosage. We need friends and loved ones in our lives who understand that sometimes we just can’t “people” — and they accept this, minus the guilt trip.
8. A deeper purpose to our lives and work
Everyone needs to pay their bills, and for many of us, that’s why we go to work, even if we have to drag ourselves kicking and screaming. And some people are content with this arrangement (or at least tolerate it). However, for many introverts, it’s not enough — we crave work that’s purposeful and meaningful. We want to do more than just earn a paycheck and put a roof over our heads. Without meaning and purpose in our lives — whether it comes from our job, a relationship, a hobby, or something else — introverts will feel deeply unhappy.
9. Permission to remain quiet
Sometimes we just won’t have the energy to interact. Or we’ll be turned inward, doing what introverts do best, which is reflecting on and analyzing ideas and experiences. Pointing out, “You’re so quiet!” or prodding us to talk will only make us feel self-conscious. At these times, give us permission to remain quiet — it’s what we need to be happy. After time to process and recharge, we’ll likely return to you with plenty to say.
Unique and fiercely independent, introverts are more inclined to let their own inner resources guide them than follow the crowd. We do our best work — and are our happiest — when we have the freedom to explore ideas, spend time alone, and be self-directed and independent.
11. The simple life
I have an extroverted friend who seems to do it all — volunteering at her son’s school, caring for her family, and planning get-togethers for our friends, on top of a full-time job. As an introvert, I’d never survive that same schedule; besides, the simple life is good enough for me. A good book, a lazy weekend, a meaningful conversation with a friend — and some snuggles from my animal friends — are what makes me happy.
12. Friends and loved ones who value us despite our quirks
We’re never going to be the most popular person in the room. In fact, in a large group, you might not even notice us at all, as we tend to remain in the background. Nevertheless, just like anyone else, we introverts need people in our lives — people who see our value and care for us despite our quirks. We know that at times, we can be difficult to deal with — nobody’s perfect. When you love and accept us as we are, even when our introverted quirks don’t make sense to you, you’re making our lives profoundly happier.
Introverts, what would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
Check out my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.