Nearly all of us have dark times.

“Hang on — things will get better.” Someone has probably said this to you at some point, and probably exactly when you thought it wouldn’t be true. It won’t get better for me…. Not me, because I’m… [demon voices here].

One specific piece of advice you may hear is to become more of an extrovert. Since extroverts are defined as “outgoing” or “expressive” and are energized by social interactions, this could, in fact, be excellent advice.

As travel writer Rick Steves famously says, “Extroverts have more fun.” Getting out of your head and into the world can help you socially, professionally, and psychologically.

And it may be especially important in your middle and elder years, when it’s easier to become isolated.

Can You Choose to be an Extrovert?

Enthusiasm, assertiveness, and sociability are all linked to extroversion. Extroverts tend to be happier, too. Can pushing yourself to be lively and socially confident cheer you up? It might.

“Extroverts Have More Fun.”

Rick Steves

In one U.S. study, volunteers were asked to be as “talkative,” “assertive,” and “spontaneous” as possible for a week. When they reported back, they listed more upbeat emotions, including “connectedness” and “flow,” the latter referring to the feeling you get when you’re immersed in an enjoyable activity. They felt worse after spending a week acting more “deliberate,” “quiet,” and “reserved.”

“Playing outgoing” is not without risks, though. It could exhaust you if you’re on the far end of the introversion scale, other research has concluded. But it’s not true that your personality is set in stone — you can nudge it in one direction or another.

Nudging towards sociability is a good idea, if you can. Research suggests, for example, that we are all happier when we chat with strangers while commuting.

So, How?

Don’t rely on family. While time with family counts, it is not a substitute for general sociability. In a study of more than 270,000 adults , valuing friendship was linked to better functioning, especially among older folks, and those who focused on family did less well.

In a companion study with nearly 7,500 older adults, people said that their friendships were the key to their happiness and health.

how to be more outgoing graphic image of introvert and extrovert
Psychologists call endless mental feedback loops “rumination” and it can lead to depression. Be sure to get out of your head and into the world.

A British Index of Wellbeing in Later Life analyzed data from nearly 15,000 people. It found that categories including “civic participation,” “having friends,” “neighborliness of local area,” and, yes, “extraversion” were all as important as being married and more important than having children or grandchildren in your life.

Perhaps you’re older and contemplating a move to be near your family. This may be necessary or desirable, of course, but this research suggests that connecting with people in your new location and staying in touch with old friends is of paramount importance. Can your daughter come live near you?

Be a joiner. In the same index, “creative and cultural participation” (belonging to a film or book club, community theater, or knitting circle, maybe, or volunteering as a museum docent) was the single most important factor in promoting happiness, followed by “physical activities.” Both were more important than income, owning your home, and marriage or children.

Be a helper. An 80-year study of 1,500 Californians concluded that people who are involved in a social network that includes advising and caring for others live longer, and it doesn’t have to be grandkids.

One More Thing to Remember

We’ve established that being an extrovert, especially in later years, can help you be happier.

But the good news is, you may also naturally become more cheery.

Researchers call this the “U-shape” of happiness: People tend to have midlife crises (that’s the bottom of the “U”), recover, and cheer up in their 50s or 60s.

how to be more outgoing July 4 party
Becoming extroverted appears to be under more conscious control than many realize. Make the choice.

Now 70 years old, Dartmouth labor economist Danny Blanchflower beams in his Twitter photo as he holds up a fish much bigger than his chest. Two years ago, Blanchflower reaffirmed his earlier findings about the U-shape: People hit bottom around age 50 and then get happier, and that’s true in 145 countries, including the continent of Africa. “The happiness curve seems to be everywhere,” he writes.

Although there’s debate on the turning point — another team argues that the data shows a strong increase in happiness from 60 to 75 — the myth that youth is better and age is a miserable burden isn’t holding up.

The U pattern may be hardwired in us by evolution. It appeared in a 2012 study of 508 chimpanzees and orangutans whose well-being was rated over time by zookeepers and others who knew the animals individually.

A brain-scan study titled “The Mellow Years?” found neurochemical evidence that as we age, we get better at staying “positive.”

Bottom Line

So let’s put it all together. Becoming more extroverted may help augment your natural journey toward happiness as you age.

So, why not cook an early seafood dinner for a gathering of your favorite people?  Allow us to suggest experimenting with our recipe for Buttermilk Fried Oysters or Bacon Wrapped Scallop Sliders to facilitate your transition to happy extraversion.

Social time is the blessing of age. Live it up.

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Author

Temma Ehrenfeld has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her novel "Morgan" is available at bookstores.

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