Why Extroverts Are Happier In America

It comes down to “culture fit.”

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Sorry, introverts of North America.

According to new research, you just don’t fit into the continent that well—at least in terms of life satisfaction.

In a new paper in the Journal of Personality, a team lead by Hyunji Kim, a postdoc at York University in Canada, drew on many thousands of respondents in Canada, the U.S., England, Germany, and Japan.

In each case, the experiment participants—a ton of them, like more than 18,000 Germans and almost 6,000 Americans—took measures of the Big 5 personality traits. Those are conscientiousness ( or how much you’re into goals); extroversion (or how sensitive you are to social rewards); agreeableness ( or how friendly you are); neuroticism (or how sensitive you are to perceived threats); and openness to experience (or how much you crave new things).

The very fascinating results: extroversion was a unique predictor of life satisfaction in the Canadian and American samples, but much less so in England, Japan, and especially Germany. (Importantly, the researchers were measuring “life satisfaction,” rather than “feeling good” or “positive emotions,” which are sometimes thought of as a component of extroversion in the first place.)

The authors speculate that extroverts of North America are so satisfied with life because of “cultural fit”: North American cultures, perhaps especially that of the United States, demand that people be fluent in forming new bonds. It’s part of the American Dream to move to new places—and Americans do it a lot —and it means you’re going to have to make new friends.

In societies with tighter, more stable social relationships—in this case, Germany, but likely other places where you know the same people all of your life, being extroverted may be less important for life satisfaction because relationships are more determined by cultural roles and norms, like the kind of work you do or the neighborhood you’re from, and likely remain in.

“If personality is valued in the culture, culture functions as an important amplifier of the relation between personality and well-being,” Kim and her colleagues write. “It is more desirable to be extroverted in high-mobility, extroverted environments, where Extroversion is a valuable asset to build new social networks.”

There was one more major personality result buried within the data: neuroticism was an even bigger predictor of life satisfaction than extroversion—but in the negative direction. This makes sense: neuroticism is linked with a tendency to ruminate, or think obsessively about negative things, and with that, the risk of developing depression.

If you’re not a natural extrovert and you’re moving to a new place, fret not: Brian Little, Cambridge psychologist and author of Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, has found repeatedly that when introverts have projects that are important to them—like socializing a lot after just moving to new city, they can do it, as long as they give themselves space and time and restore themselves. So go to that party Friday, but then let yourself stay in with Netflix on Saturday. 

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