I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
How does your personality shape your life … and what, if anything, can you do about it?
Are you hardwired for happiness, or born to brood? Do you think you’re in charge of your future, or do you surf the waves of unknowable fate? Would you be happier, or just less socially adept, if you were less concerned about what other people thought of you? And what about your “Type A” spouse: is he or she destined to have a heart attack, or just drive you to drink?
In the past few decades, new scientific research has transformed old ideas about the nature of human personality. Neuroscientists, biologists, and psychological scientists have reexamined the theories of Freud and Jung as well as the humanistic psychologies of the 1960s, upending the simplistic categorizations of personality “types,” and developing new tools and methods for exploring who we are. Renowned professor and pioneering research psychologist Brian R. Little has been at the leading edge of this new science. In this wise and witty book he shares a wealth of new data and provocative insights about who we are, why we act the way we do, what we can—and can’t—change, and how we can best thrive in light of our “nature.”
I heard the author interviewed on the radio and decided I definitely wanted to read his book. Unfortunately, I think I heard the best bits in the interview. Or it may be that I shouldn’t attempt psychology books in the summer time. I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be, although I still appreciate the book.
I think by now that the vast majority of introverts have read Susan Cain’s Quiet : the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. It’s our manifesto, reminding us that introverts are necessary and important to our society (which seems to value extraverts over us).
And yet, like most introverts, I know that I can push myself to act extraverted. I got going on that in my twenties and I’m just ramping down from that effort in my fifties. But, as Brian Little states in Me, Myself, and Us, there is a price for that. I’ve spent decades pushing myself to go out into the world and do things, attend events, make acquaintances. My schedule was often so full that I when I actually got a day to myself, I wouldn’t even bother to get dressed. Pajama days, I called them, when I didn’t have to go anywhere or be anybody. I just collapsed in a heap. I also treasured the occasional evenings at home, doing my own thing, like the exemplary introvert that I am.
Recently, my financial advisor was holding an appreciation evening for all of his clients and he was pressing me to attend. I asked, “Is this one of those evenings where we juggle wine glasses and little plates and have to make conversation with complete strangers?” He got an odd look on his face (he’s an extravert) and replied, “Yes.” I told him that I’d been forcing myself to do stuff like that for decades and now that I was well over 50, I was no longer willing to suffer in that fashion. I believe my exact words were, “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.” He & his partner eventually laughed about it, but it was obvious that they had no idea how much discomfort such situations cause for us introverts.
So I have some sympathy for extraverted folks who are made to try to sit still & quiet in classrooms, expected to study quietly in libraries, and not be disruptive in offices. They are having to stifle their essential selves and it is not easy. It takes a lot of energy and good coping strategies.
I appreciated the reminder from Little that we have our essential nature, but we also have the ability to choose other behaviours, that we must plan to recover from such efforts, and that others are making similar efforts. I also enjoyed the chapters on personal projects—and the advice to help with those projects that have been foisted upon you (by your family, your spouse, your boss) and find time for the self-chosen projects that actually make life meaningful.
A good book to choose if you frequently feel like your life is being pushed off course by forces beyond your control.