Introvert or Misanthrope?

My son came home from the neighbor’s house about two hours ago for dinner and a Mommy. My daughter and my husband are still over there. It’s going on eight hours now.

They went over to watch the Ohio State vs Michigan game because some significant hill between us and Boston keeps us from getting television stations over the air. We’ve not had pay television since 2001, and I have no intention of starting now, especially for maybe three “essential” football games a year and PBS, which we really should be able to access for free. I mean, in what way is it “public” television if we’ve got to fork over a huge sum of money to a non-local business to get it on our tv?

But this post isn’t about the bizarre state of broadcast television these days; it’s about my antisocial tendencies.

When the rest of my family went over to watch football, I went grocery shopping. Then I dropped off a bottle of lemon juice at the neighbor’s house and checked on the kids. They were both fine (to the point that they barely registered my presence; my husband didn’t seem to notice me, either), so I went home and made some cookies, read some of Duane Elgin’s Voluntary Simplicity, boxed up some stuff to mail to friends and family, and played some Christmas songs on my flute. Every now and then my husband would call with updates and to invite me over to join everyone for dinner. It turns out the neighbors had a dinner party planned and were inviting our family to join them.

I’m in a bit of an insular mood right now. I feel a desire for quiet contemplation. I have a sense that there’s something I’m on the verge of understanding, a sound just on the edge of my attention that I could hear if I could just tune my ear to it. So I didn’t mind missing football and didn’t even feel weird about it, except that it seemed like my husband was watching the game alone on their projection television while the neighbors played with our kids.

The dinner is what got me feeling emotional discomfort.

I felt like I ought to go to the dinner. Apparently I was invited, too, several times, but a number of things kept me home:

1) I didn’t really feel like chatting with people.

2)  I don’t like to burden people with my food things. Because they’re so friendly, I’m sure that if I tried to explain to them that I don’t eat gluten or dairy, they’d want to make me something else, and if I didn’t eat they’d try to make me eat something and I’d feel uncomfortable because here they made all of this food and invited me over and I was refusing to eat.

3) These neighbors are really, really friendly. I mean, like, really, really friendly. They give us things every time we go over there. They tried multiple times to pay for the lemon juice I brought them. And I’m a little ashamed to admit that I just don’t quite trust people who are too friendly. It seems absolutely impossible for someone to want us to just hang out at their house for 8+ hours without getting tired of us. I worried that they were just asking us for dinner to be polite, but they really wanted us to go home, already. My husband takes these things at face value and accepts invitations left and right. Sometimes, like with the football watching, he creates the invitation if it hasn’t been spontaneously extended. But I think I’d rather live in a culture where I’m supposed to refuse three times and if they still offer the fourth time, then I know for sure they really want me to be there. But for now, I’d rather refuse a legitimate invitation than risk accepting a “just being polite” invitation.

Reason #1 I can chalk up to normal introvert behavior. I really was happy to be alone today. But I fear that #2 and #3 are inching into the realm of something else. If I watched tv, I’m sure I’d see an ad for a drug to help me be more social, but since I don’t, I guess I’m stuck trying to figure out these things myself.

Where’s the line between introversion and antisocial behavior, between wanting to be alone and wanting to avoid social situations? And how on earth can a person tell if someone who’s unfailingly friendly is really, honestly friendly or is just being polite?

The Introvert Playdate

Today I planned yet another introvert-unfriendly outing for my introverted self and my two introverted children.

We were supposed to meet a houseful of strangers (fellow UU homeschoolers; you don’t get much stranger than that. (Actually, that’s not true. There are a lot of people stranger than that. Like people who like processed cheese or people who use both feet to drive cars with automatic transmissions.)) for snacks and chatting this afternoon.

My son fell asleep about five minutes before we’d planned to leave.

I’ve been dragging this poor kid out at naptime for his whole life, so this time I lay my son on his little bed to let his nap run its course.

While he slept, I broke the news to my daughter that we might not be able to go to the playdate today. She’d been looking forward to it because it was going to be chock-full of girls. For some reason, all of our outings have consisted primarily of boys. As my daughter says, one or two boys is okay. But more than that are just too loud.

Her reply to the news surprised me.

“Well, Mom,” she said, “I’d rather just not go. I’m really enjoying this sticker book. And we’ve been meeting a lot of new people this week. It’s not good to meet too many new people too quickly.”

We ended up agreeing that if her brother woke up by 2:30, we’d still go, but if he slept past 2:30, we’d stay home. In the meantime, she and I would read silently, our very favorite way to pass the time.

He woke up at 2:23.

So, we got our rain jackets on, climbed into the car, and dodged minor flooding as we drove to our destination. As we walked into the house, we determined two things: 1) all attendees were female except for the golden retriever and my son, and 2) despite my daughter’s assertion to the contrary, seven little girls can be every bit as noisy as seven little boys.

The girls invited my daughter into the fold immediately while my son and I retired to the mom room to play on the floor with the toy trains while the grownups chatted above our heads. Periodically I would add something about Utah to the conversation, despite the fact that every time I say something about Utah, the conversation stops. Even as I open my mouth to speak, I say, “Stop! Don’t say anything about Utah!” But I worry it would be weirder if I just sat there in silence the whole time. Then I let myself talk and discover yet again that no, silence would not be weirder.

At any rate, I was somewhat relieved when my son grew tired of the trains and wanted to follow the trail of dress-up clothes upstairs to see what his sister and the other seven girls were doing.

We found my daughter on the floor with a dollhouse, talking to herself while placing a tiny and very odd looking cat-type creature into an equally tiny blender.

“Mom,” she said when she saw me, “I’ve not had any fun at all.”

The other girls stopped talking.

“Oh?” I asked. “Well, even if you feel that way, it’s not really polite to say so.”

“That’s okay,” one of the girls said, apparently prompting my daughter to reiterate her original statement.

“I’ve had no fun at all, Mom,” my daughter repeated.

“Well, maybe if you played with the other girls you’d have more fun?” I suggested.

Another girl addressed my daughter.

“We’ve invited you to play again and again, and you’re welcome to join us any time you want to. We’re playing a game where we’re humans who turn into mythical creatures.”

“Or you don’t have to be a mythical creature,” another girl corrected. “You could just be a very powerful human or something like that.”

My daughter, looked up at one speaker and then the other. Then she turned back to the dollhouse as the other girls resumed their noisy transformations into mythical creatures and powerful humans.

I think maybe I should re-think our plans for tomorrow.

No. 5 of “Sixteen Things I Believe” by Susan Cain

5. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

via Sixteen Things I Believe, from Susan Cain’s blog, “The Power of Introverts.”

I believe this, too. Hence the homeschooling thing.

Shyness, Social Anxiety, and The Diane Rehm Show

Latent-variable model relating type of self-di...

Image via Wikipedia

We put our under-cupboard radio/CD player up on Sunday. I finally turned it on for my own use on Tuesday when I flipped on NPR while I did the dishes.

Lo and behold! Here was Susan Cain, author of one of the few blogs that I follow and the forthcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, on The Diane Rehm Show! (For her blog post and a link to the show, visit here: The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) Takes On Shyness and Social Anxiety….)

Susan was joined by three professors (of Biology and Anthropology, Psychiatry, and Psychology) who were all discussing shyness, introversion, and social anxiety.

In the comments on Susan’s blog post about the show, several people expressed dismay at Todd Kashdan’s comments about social anxiety and self-centeredness. The ideas he presents are difficult to accept, but I can see their validity. In the course of his research, he has observed how those suffering from social anxiety are so concerned with themselves and their own emotional and bodily reactions that they have difficulty connecting with others. Self-centeredness is not something many of us want to own up to. This is not one of the qualities that are lauded in our culture. But I do, reluctantly, see these tendencies in myself. (I’m not sure you can be a blogger and not be self-centered.)

In social situations, I always have the critical inner voice questioning everything I say and do, wondering how I appear to others, if they think I’m funny and/or attractive (and worrying that they think I’m boring and hideous), what effect my words might be having, what an appropriate response might be to what they’re saying. This is heightened when I’m in a particularly uncomfortable situation, like when I’m in a large group of strangers with whom I’m expected to interact. When I talk, I find myself talking a lot about myself, even though I know I would be more likely to make a positive impression by focussing the conversation on others. I just can’t think of anything to ask other people because I’m too busy wishing I weren’t there.

Another piece I found interesting was Todd Kashdan’s description of the different coping mechanisms employed by shy people. While some shy people react to the discomfort and overwhelming sensations of social situations by simply stepping away and removing themselves from the situation, others exhibit very bold behavior. Some shy or socially anxious people, Kashdan says, are quite aggressive when dealing with others. It’s like they anticipate that they’re going to feel discomfort in social situations and they choose to jump right in and have at least a little bit of control of the situation.

When I heard this, I thought about how I deal with moving. I’m the person who hates calling to order pizza and who would rather overpay for home repair projects because getting three bids is too emotionally taxing. When I have to go to the restroom in a public place, I have to be absolutely desperate before I’m willing to ask an employee to tell me where the restroom is. I break into a sweat when I pick up a prescription.

It’s not really consistent with my personality and my preferences to take on leading a hiking group in an area I’ve never been to with people I’ve never met. Nor am I within my comfort zone when I speak in front of a group of strangers in something like Toastmasters or a large book club.

Yet when I’m settling into a new area, I do all of these things and more. I meet as many people as I can, hoping to find the one or two people with whom I have a comfortable connection.

I know that any interaction will be fraught with emotional and physical discomfort, so I figure I might as well go all out. With any luck, it will have an effect similar to jumping into a cool swimming pool. I know that the water will be uncomfortably cold, but I also know that I will adjust faster if I just jump in and gasp and start treading water than if I ease my way in slowly, letting the line of chill water move slowly, slowly up my body and causing my muscles to contract painfully in anticipation of the cold. (I avoid swimming, too, though, just for the record.)

I’m always worried that I’m a fake introvert when I act boldly. I find it reassuring that research supports the idea that I can jump in boldly and still be introverted.

I’m so glad Susan Cain was on the show, though. Not only was it exciting to hear her speak (and, by the way, it rekindled my interest in going back to Toastmasters. I know she’s quite active in that organization, and I figured if she could sound so eloquent and on-topic on the show, perhaps Toastmasters is a good thing to pursue), but she expressed a viewpoint the others kept moving away from.

The other guests were clinicians and researchers. They were focussed, it seemed, on pathologizing behaviors and pointing out the challenges and negatives of shyness or social anxiety. Susan was the only voice (with the exception of David Sloan Wilson when he spoke about the relative evolutionary benefits and risks of both sitting things out and taking bold action) talking up the positives of shyness and social anxiety. Susan worked hard to get the point across that there really are powerful benefits to being introverted, and even to being shy, within our culture.

I loved the point she made that many people who are described as “shy” are often very sensitive to their surroundings. They are shy in part because they take in so many details that others let slide that they become overwhelmed by these stimuli and need to pull back. She describes the child in the Mommy and Me music class who sits on her mother’s lap the entire time and doesn’t participate in class. Later, however, perhaps when they’re at home in a safe and comfortable environment, they sing and dance and show that they were paying close attention during class.

This is exactly the experience I have had with both of my children. It was interesting realizing how embarrassed I was about this behavior, and how worried I was about how other people viewed me and my children when they held back like they did even as I recognized that this is exactly how I’d prefer to deal with the situation if I didn’t feel compelled by social expectations to participate. (Yet another example of how my anxiety makes me self-centered, come to think of it.)

Susan did a good job of explaining the differences between shyness and introversion, although her differentiation was largely discounted by psychiatrist Liza Gold who moments later turned the conversation back to a discussion of the extremes. I wish that Susan had been given a little more time and that there had been a clearer delineation in the conversation between the debilitating social anxiety that a very small number of people feel and the shyness that a relatively large portion of the population live with quite successfully every day.

A Book I Wish I Had Written: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope.”

Oh, my. This is one of the best books I’ve read.

It’s so full of insights and emotion, as well as the conflicts that each of us share between what is right and what we desire. Or fear.

The narrator, John Ames, knows he’s dying. He’s taken this opportunity to share some words with his son. He shares a little bit of history, a little bit of theology, and a lot of his own fatherly uncertainty and hopes and dreams and dreads.

I was brought to tears more than once by this book, and I’m not easily brought to tears.

It’s lovely to see how John’s intentions to pass along great words of wisdom and guidance to his son turn into the authentic ruminations that will certainly offer his son more direction than any sermon could. His father is a fallible man, an imperfect man, but a good man. He’s suffered through pain and despair, jealousy and covetise, and now, at the end of his life, is fully and truly thankful for the bounty he’s received. His words reveal an all-encompassing love of his son. Every child deserves this gift from his parents; to know that he is the apple of his parents’ eyes, the most perfect creature in Creation.

I want to go back and read this book again right now. It was that good.

View all my reviews

Keeping my Sanity by Losing my Mind: Mindful Mama Carnival Post

Welcome to the First Mindful Mama Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Participants are writing posts about what mindful practices mean to them, how they parent mindfully, obstacles to mindful practice and experiences along the way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

When I was in high school, my mom raised mice in our basement. These weren’t feeder mice; these were fancy pet mice. Silkies with their shiny coats; Egyptian mice with their large, black eyes, reddish fur, and pointy little noses; English mice with their round ears and deep brown coats. At one point, we had more than 200 mice living in cages in our basement.

For the most part, mice are pretty quiet. Unless we got behind on cleaning their cages, they didn’t demand much attention. The exception was when their exercise wheels needed greasing. Four or more of these little guys would decide to run on the wheel at the same time, the fast ones tumbling the slow pokes up and over the little metal wheel while the wheel itself screamed and screamed so that we could hear it two floors up.

It was when I heard this wheel that I became aware of the presence of hundreds of mice in my home and that the presence of hundreds of mice in my home became unsettling.

I have a spastic hamster who lives in my head. He’s always up there nibbling and stuffing his cheeks, waiting for me to toss him a circuitous thought so he can take it and run with it in his squeaky little hamster wheel. When I feed this spastic hamster, my thoughts snowball. Something tiny, like a mouse running on a wheel, becomes something enormous and un-ignorable.

I’ve discovered that I can trust my emotions, but that if I let that hamster in my brain take off, the thoughts run wild and my bodily sensations become intense and totally disconnected from my conscious experience. I end up anxiously mentally traveling back in time trying to figure out what I might have eaten to make my stomach upset or moralizing about the glass of wine I had with dinner, convinced that’s why I’m in a cold sweat at 3am. I latch onto these thoughts as a comfort measure, but it isn’t comforting at all. In fact, it makes me feel worse physically at the same time that I feel worse emotionally.

The key is to get the hamster off the wheel. I think of this as losing my mind.

I do this by shifting the focus from my thoughts to the sensations in my body and allowing those to exist without judgment. I focus on my left toes or on the physical act of breathing or on the feeling of air against my exposed skin, and that helps remind me that I’m okay physically. (I’m alive, I’m breathing, I must be okay.) Bringing awareness to my body helps stop the snowball of my thoughts, which helps stop the increasing discomfort in my physical body (racing heart, upset stomach, cold sweats), which slows the thoughts. I separate my mind from my body by letting my thoughts alone while I focus on my body.

I began doing this in neutral situations for the practice. Then I applied the technique to negative situations and found that it’s much easier to avoid moralizing about my emotions when the hamster is quiet. Recently I’ve started focusing on body sensations in positive situations, like when I’m cuddling my son or when I’m watching my daughter on the soccer field, which helps me more fully experience the good feeling.

With the 24/7 presence of my family during our recent road trip, I’ve found this technique to be invaluable. I don’t always remember to do it, and it’s not always enough to keep me from yelling, but even my sporadic application of the technique has enhanced my enjoyment of our road trip and has decreased the frequency of my hypersensitivity-induced tantrums.

And that makes a week on the road and our cross-country mood—not to mention an indefinite period of time in a hotel room—more pleasant for all of us.

***

Mindful Mama Blog CarnivalVisit TouchstoneZ to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

June is “Sharing Happiness” Month!

G.-B. Duchanne de Boulogne, Synoptic plate 4 f...

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I’m not a terribly emotive person. It goes along with introversion to be understated about my emotional expressions, and it’s okay. It does, however, sometimes hinder connection with others who perhaps aren’t as tuned in to my subtle expressions (and who maybe read my “I’m concentrating” facial expression as “I’m really angry with you.”).

The thing I want to work on for June is expressing happiness to others.

Although I set up my monthly areas of focus back in July 2010, I don’t know that I could have timed this one any better had I tried. Now that we’re moving and starting over in a new location, smiling when I’m happy might just help me in making connections with people I meet in our new home town.

June 2011 – Sharing Happiness
Focus: Find and utilize ways in which to express my happiness in order to share it with others.

Resolutions:

-Smile when I feel happy. This seems like a simple one, and I do smile. But I realized years ago after looking at myself in pictures and in the mirror that often what feels like a smile to me doesn’t look like much of anything from the outside. I’m going to make a point of smiling bigger, and perhaps even showing some teeth.

-Tell people when I feel happy. This one could get really corny, really fast, if I let it. I picture that strange smiling kid from A Christmas Story. You know, the one in line to see Santa behind Ralphie who’s wearing the aviator helmet and goggles and speaks in monotone about how he loves The Wizard of Oz? Yeah, I don’t plan on doing that. I can see smiling people and telling them, “That tickles me!” or “That delights me!” or something to that effect. My purpose is just to let people in on my happiness. Not only do I think that will help me make a connection with them, but I think getting used to telling someone when I’m happy might help make it easier for me to ask for help or support when I’m feeling down.

-Use hugs as a greeting and a goodbye. I’m not really a hugger. I’m notorious for the awkward hug: stepping on the other person’s foot, deciding at the last moment to put my face on a different side of them than I’d started to, or just not knowing how to initiate a hug so I announce it (“I’m going to hug you now,” which is very spontaneous and inviting). But I like hugs, and I think they’re a great way to make a physical and emotional connection with a friend. I’m thinking I might get better at administering them (and receiving them) with practice. Once again, with a whole new set of people to meet, I can try out my new persona as a “hugger.” Although I might start with a hand on their arm or shoulder before I go straight for the embrace.

-Laugh out loud. I tend to be noncommittal when it comes to laughing. My husband says I end up many times just sounding nervous when I give my lackluster, “Heh, heh!” Sometimes, though, I break out with a huge guffaw and then I feel self-conscious, mostly because my guffaws are generally met by silent stares from those I’m speaking with. I was at dinner with two friends a few years ago, and one friend was talking about how her husband had been out of work and he was beginning to get on her nerves. She was speaking in a lighthearted, funny way, and one comment struck me as particularly amusing and I guffawed. Rather than laughing or even smiling with me, both of my friends stared at me blankly and in silence. I was immediately struck with terror that I’d misinterpreted the situation and was laughing inappropriately at a painful story my friend was sharing. I actually couldn’t sleep that night for fear that I had made an enormous social faux pas and wondering if I should call my friend the next day and apologize for laughing so loudly. I finally got back to sleep after some deep breathing and some EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, which with I was toying at the time. It was helpful, but just as helpful for me are brief mental body scans which don’t have all of the tapping of acupressure points and so are easier to do in public without looking even more socially odd than I already do). At any rate, I just want to feel confident committing to a laugh and just laughing when something strikes me as funny. Even as I type this, I realize I’m unlikely to follow this resolution because I would be too worried I was misinterpreting the situation, but I like the idea of it anyway so I’m going to leave it on here.

So, that’s what’s on tap for June! With any luck, all of my happiness techniques will come together and help me enjoy a week of six hours in the car each day with my husband, my kids, and my cats. And with any luck, I can find a balance between my introversion and sharing my emotions with others in a way they can understand.

Happiness is…

…a farewell party hosted by a dear friend and attended by so many other dear friends, green grass for the kids to run around in while the parents chatted, big boys who let my little son chase after them and gaze at them adoringly, and rain that held off until we were packing everything up.

Introverted me is absolutely worn out by all the socializing, but it was worth it.

Sound Decluttering

I had a mute massage yesterday.

My massage therapist, also a dueling pianist (pronounced pi-AN-ist) at the Tavernacle Social Club, is on doctor-ordered vocal rest. She offered to postpone my massage until after she could talk again, but that would be after we are planning to be on our way cross-country, so I kept my appointment.

It was interesting lying there and observing my reactions to the silence. Of course, she can still hear so I could have spoken to her during the massage, but it just felt right not to.

My main reaction was one of relief. I like silence, but I didn’t realize just how much effort it takes me to make conversation. It ended up that it felt more natural to stay silent than it did to speak, so I stayed silent.

In spite of the comfort I felt keeping silent, I found myself thinking of things to say. I think I recognize that silence is, for many people, not so comfortable, and I’ve programmed myself to fill in silence as a courtesy.

Trouble was, all of the things I could think of to say were questions soliciting information from my massage therapist. I wanted to know how her silence was going. She’d posted on Facebook that it was getting more challenging, and I wanted to hear more about the ways in which it was challenging. I wanted to know how her silence was affecting her family and more about the ways in which her daily interactions had changed.

But since I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get answers to these questions while lying facedown on the massage table, I lapsed back into my comfortable silence and thought about how great the massage felt and about my periodic thoughts of engaging in a vow of silence of my own.

I read a story a couple of years ago about a guy who took a vow of silence and didn’t speak for 17 years. He also didn’t ride in any conveyance powered by fossil fuels. Then finally a few years ago, he broke his silence and bought a Prius. The idea intrigued me (minus the buying of the Prius…nothing against Prii, I just found the silence part more compelling. Buying a Prius is pretty mundane, but buying one after a 17-year vow of silence is something else entirely).

I think of a vow of silence as a decluttering of sorts. As I’ve mentioned, talking to people takes a lot of energy for me. Remaining silent would be almost freeing, I think. I imagine that it would create space in my life much as decluttering stuff does in my physical environment. I like the idea of being released from the obligation of social chatter, free to simply smile and listen (or not) to the conversations around me.

My massage therapist talked—or rather, wrote—about how strangers seem to assume that since she doesn’t speak, she can’t hear either. They direct their verbal comments and questions to the people she’s with rather than to her. I think she found this amusing and enlightening and at the same time inconvenient and annoying, and perhaps kind of offensive. I can see having all of those reactions, but I keep coming back to that feeling of freedom I imagine.

I’ve realized for a while that I’m better at abstention than I am at moderation. I keep telling myself not to yell, and I keep yelling. So I figure that perhaps if I don’t allow myself to talk at all, I might finally be able to stop yelling.

So with all of the things that appeal to me about a vow of silence, why don’t I take one? It wouldn’t be that long. Maybe two or four weeks, just to get a taste of it.

I think I’m afraid of how silence would change my relationships.

I homeschool. Could I do that silently? Would a month of mommy silence hamper my son’s development of verbal skills?

What about my friendships? Could they exist without me speaking? I could do everything online, but there are so many miscommunications that come of that kind of interaction that could be resolved in a short vocal conversation.

I’m getting ready to move to a new state. Would a vow of silence diminish my ability to make new friends and build a social network? It would certainly influence how the people I met treated me. But then, I’m always wanting to meet more introverts. Perhaps staying silent could help draw out those people who find too much talking uncomfortable. Perhaps it would give the introverts around me the space to speak.

I couldn’t speak for my daughter when she’s feeling shy or translate for my son when he launches into a toddler-talk monologue with a stranger. But maybe that would be good for them. Maybe they could become more confident if I weren’t always there to bail them out.

Unable to make the decision to implement a vow of silence, I put the idea on the back burner again. Maybe when my kids are older, or when we’re planning a “summer vacation” from schoolwork anyway, or after we’ve all taken an ASL course, or after I’ve got well-established friendships in our new hometown.

Or maybe I could take the middle ground in each conversation and just let the silence be rather than feeling compelled to fill it.

Have you ever taken a vow of silence by choice or by necessity? How long were you silent? How did your relationships change during your silence? How did they change when you broke your silence?

To read about one person’s month of silence, visit My Vow of Silence (start on February 1, 2009).

Smiling: Does it Count if You Fake It?

Baseball uniform(s) in the 1870's

How long did these ball players live? Judging by their smiles, not long. (Image via Wikipedia)

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (and inspiration for my happiness project and this blog) tweeted this post by Ron Gutman from the Forbes blog: The Untapped Power Of Smiling.

In this post, Gutman reports on research that shows that smiling makes us feel better and look more competent and attractive. In addition, the size of one’s smile can also predict the length of that person’s life (large smiles = long life, apparently, at least among Major League baseball players in 1952).

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that one of the things about introverts is that we’re not terribly emotive. Often, our faces don’t reflect what we’re feeling inside. In fact, we are frequently accused of “scowling” or otherwise looking angry when we’re thinking. Does this lack of huge smiles mean we’re not going to live as long as the smiling guy next to us?

Gutman concludes:

So now, whenever you want to look great and competent, improve your marriage, or reduce your stress…or whenever you want to feel as good as when you’ve enjoyed a stack of high quality chocolate without incurring the caloric cost, or as if you randomly found 25 grand in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn for ages…or when you want to tap into a superpower and help yourself and others live longer, healthier happier lives…SMILE :-) [the emoticon is emphatically his]

But I remember reading somewhere (I think it was David Rakoff’s Half Empty. Here’s the trouble with only checking books out from the library and not buying them; I want to reference them in my blog and they’re not right here at my fingertips. Probably a reason to get a Kindle) that in Thailand (I think), people can tell when a smile is fake. I suppose we can all tell when a smile is fake or forced, but apparently in Thailand they know this consciously and comment on it when they see fake smiles in advertising and such.

So here’s my question: If you’re not a natural smiler but you make a point of forcing yourself to smile, will you still reap the purported benefits of smiling (a long, happy life filled with successful business endeavors and blissful interpersonal interactions)? Because if, as Gutman suggests, the smiles need to be “big, and genuine,” my fellow introverts and I might just be screwed.