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New research has found that being an extrovert makes you happier. So I spent a week attending social events to see if I could trick myself into being more naturally outgoing
I was asked to torture myself for a week for this experiment. Well, not torture, but close enough for me. For a week, this introvert would put social awkwardness to one side and live as an extrovert. I dont particularly enjoy meeting new people. I decline most party invitations and if I do go, I leave as soon as I can without causing offence. Sometimes I fantasise about doing what Princess Diana used to do when she wanted to lose friends change her phone number. So the prospect of spending a week saying yes to every social engagement that came my way was about as appealing as a root canal treatment.
But evidence shows that conquering your inner introversion can be good for your mental health. In the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of California asked 123 people to act as extroverts for a week. Participants were asked to be talkative, assertive and spontaneous in their daily interactions with other people. The following week, the same group was asked to act like introverts. The findings were remarkable.
It was the biggest effect weve ever found in any of our studies, says Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, the lead researcher. When people acted extrovert, they experienced more positive emotions and satisfaction. When they acted introvert, they experienced fewer positive emotions. She speculates that this is because, at heart, humans are social creatures. Social relationships are inherently rewarding for us. We have a need to belong and to connect with each other.
But how to do it? If there is one person to ask, it is Jessica Pan. In 2018, Pan spent a year as an extrovert and documented the experience in a memoir, Sorry Im Late, I Didnt Want to Come. You wont die, Pan says. But you are probably going to be exhausted by the end of the week. (Unlike extroverts, who draw energy from social encounters, introverts find them draining.)
She advises me to steer clear of small talk, which is good, because I loathe it. If you spend the whole week talking about the weather, I think youll hate it. Instead, go deep and be vulnerable. Share something vulnerable about yourself, even if that seems terrifying. A person will match that normally and you will feel as if youre making a friend.
Pan gives me a set of rules: no booze because it makes things easier, no taking a friend along for moral support Thats cheating! and I must spend an hour and a half at each engagement, minimum. Here goes nothing.
I start the week by attending an Extinction Rebellion induction meeting. I have toyed with the idea of joining the movement for months, but put it off because none of my friends are members and the thought of going alone frightens me.
In a chilly church hall, I take a seat in a circle of stacking chairs. There is a long pause while I steel myself to turn to the person next to me.
Hi, I say. Im Sirin.
I start chatting to Ben, who has just moved into the area. He is a friendly bloke with a deep tan and a placid manner. Remembering Pans advice, I offer something vulnerable about myself. Ive wanted to come to these meetings for ages, but none of my friends wanted to come with me. My anxieties tumble out. Also I eat meat and fly, and Im worried everyone here would judge me.
Ben looks at me kindly. After the meeting, he waves at me from the church steps. Ill be back, I think.
This evening I am playing dodgeball with strangers and all I can think about is how much I dont want to do it. I was abysmal at team sports at school, and the thought of balls ricocheting around me feels like an anxiety dream. After checking the maximum velocity of a dodgeball (70mph), I panic and call Jacob, the Headshot United team coordinator, for some last-minute reassurance.
Were really bad, Jacob promises. Weve lost the last nine games. Besides, you can hide at the back. There will be a few people who wear knee pads and stuff like that try not to worry about them.
I catch up with Jacob and his teammate, Ed, for a pre-game drink. Someone joined us last week and said they didnt have a good time and wouldnt be coming back, says Ed. I gulp.
Jacob senses my anxiety. If you really are hating it, you dont have to keep playing, he says.
We head to a nearby school gym. Playing team sports with strangers was exactly like losing my virginity: not memorably awful, but definitely not good. I cringe every time a ball thuds my way and lack the strength to make my throws clear the other side of the court. Obviously, I get hit on the head. You took that head shot like an absolute champ, observes a teammate.
While I didnt enjoy dodgeball hated it, if Im honest I loved meeting everyone. After the game (we lost), I hit the pub with Jacob and his teammate Will. Youre not the worst newcomer weve ever had, Jacob says.
Hes definitely lying.