Because introversion is a dominant part of my personality, I used to believe I did not need much social interaction. In fact, I once bragged I could go days without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family.
Gradually, I realized that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. What changed my mind? Three insights.
Introverted ≠ Anti-Social
After reading a lot about introverted personalities, and helping others learn How to Interact with an Introvert, I realized there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. Unfortunately, I had bought into many of those misconceptions and turned them into excuses for living fully in my introversion.
First, just because so much is happening inside an introvert, as opposed to extraverts whose activity is much more visible, does not mean introverts don’t need to interact externally too. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one or small group social interaction instead of large groups, but they do need interaction.
Also, the interaction introverts do have, and it is usually less than extraverts, tends to involve less small talk and to instead focus on more in-depth interactions. And after any social interaction, introverts need to recharge with alone time. That’s where we get our energy. Extraverts seem energized by the interaction itself.
Being alone is much easier for me than engaging in social interaction. But as my kids would tell me if they heard me say that, “Easier isn’t always better.”
In fact, most people are some combination of extravert and introvert, known as ambivert. This means that the vast majority of us need some level of alone time and some level of social interaction. It’s just different for everyone.
I finally realized I was taking the easier route, and it wasn’t better. I was often lonely, and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life.
Social Interaction = Healthier Aging
The second insight came inadvertently. In an attempt to put more variety into my reading selections, I subscribe to a few different RSS feeds. One article sent me on an unexpected quest.
The article initially caught my attention because I wondered what “Black Mirror” was. (In the article, Black Mirror refers to a show on Netflix.) I finished the article and forgot about this reference, instead focusing on how a country’s government would allocate funding toward making sure people are less lonely.
“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, or carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts or experiences with.” (British Prime Minister Theresa May)
The brief article also provided these, to me, startling research findings:
- Approximately 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.
- People with social connection have 50% lower risk of dying early.
- Studies suggest that isolation and living alone impact a person’s risk for early death.
- Loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Additional research on my part showed these findings are accurate. The Brits were on to something, and I wanted in. After all, one of my life goals is to age gracefully, and now I saw that a healthy social life was a major key for that to happen.
God Encourages Fellowship
Even in my regular Bible studies over the years, I somehow managed to neglect the importance God places on fellowship. By no means does that mean a lack of awareness on my part. I knew what Scripture said about fellowship, but I foolishly thought that my minimal interactions fulfilled what God wanted.
The Holy Spirit used the above insights about introversion and loneliness combined with reintroducing me to what God’s Word says about fellowship to redirect the social focus of my life.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)
There are many additional Scripture advocating for the connection we are to have to one another as Christians and to the benefits gained from that fellowship. So, really no surprise to find out that we are physically tied to the benefits of connection with others too.
What finalized the need to shore up my social life is how I finally really saw Jesus’ own interactons during his 3-year ministry.
- Jesus took time to be alone while also making time with others a priority.
- He never showed annoyance at those wanting his attention as he was walking from one place to another or as he was speaking to crowds.
- He spent a great deal of time with his small group, his disciples.
Jesus’ examples combined with the many other references to fellowship in Scripture make me simply unable to deny the importance of social interaction for my own life any longer.
Be More Social!
Likely, I’ll always struggle with social interaction to some extent. Yet, I feel I will struggle less so now that I understand how intertwined it is with our physical and spiritual health.
One of my current goals is to “Be more social!” I realize this goal is much less than what experts recommend for goal setting. It’s not specific or measurable. Yet, I’ve still made progress with it. That progress comes because of the motivation, the “Why?” that pushes me onward.
Ultimately, the “Why?” is to finally live in obedience in this area of my life. It also involves knowing that God encourages social interaction because He knows it makes this race of life better for everyone, much like running with a friend increases our endurance. Having research back up the benefits of social interaction is akin to God putting an exclamation point on my goal.
Social interaction is not easy for me. But, it is important, crucial actually. So, I push toward this goal every day, letting my “Why?” lead me ever on to the best way over the easy one.