An 85-year Harvard study on the key to happiness could spell trouble for introverts—unless you know these 2 tricks


Forget money, a successful career or exercise: The No. 1 key to happiness comes down to positive relationships, according to an 85-year study from Harvard researchers

That's great news for anyone ready to ditch their gym membership — but for introverts, the news might feel like a mixed bag. 

From cocktail mixers to out-loud brainstorming sessions, the business world can feel stacked in favor of extroverts, particularly when it comes to forming the kind of bonds that lead to happiness.

But you don't need to panic. The path toward developing rewarding relationships may simply look different for introverts and extroverts, said Mary Shapiro, adjunct faculty at the Simmons University School of Business in Boston, who teaches about the benefits of introverted leaders.

When introverts find happiness in positive relationships, they probably get that value from a smaller number of "deeper, longer term, slower-starting" connections, Shapiro told CNBC Make It.

The trick is knowing how to start, build and sustain those relationships — and it's easier if you know a few key tricks, Shapiro said.

Identify your strengths

Step one: Recognize what you bring to the table. 

Introverts often have underappreciated leadership skills, such as deep thinking or attentiveness. Forming stronger relationships starts with identifying and developing those natural traits, since that will help others appreciate your unique strengths, Shapiro said.

To get a truly complete portrait of your best traits, she suggests a potentially terrifying activity: Reach out to a handful of people you've worked with in the past, and ask them to write brief snapshots of a time your strengths shined.

This exercise with students is "the most powerful thing," Shapiro said.

People who are silent during group meetings learn that their boss could always tell they were deeply considering everyone else's contributions, she said. People who cling to the sidelines during happy hours might realize the few people they talked to really appreciated it.

Share them with the people around you

Step two: Translate that information to your colleagues. 

Anytime you get a new boss or coworker, lay out your strengths for them — or, if that feels awkward, at least give them a snapshot of your working style. Maybe you're not the most talkative in meetings, but you keep chewing on ideas afterward. Maybe you need some quiet time each day to complete your most pressing work.

Then, turn the tables, Shapiro said: Ask your boss what they need from you in order to be seen "as a full contributor" on your team. Do they need you to share at least a couple ideas every brainstorming meeting? Is attendance at companywide networking events mandatory? 

"Acting extroverted" at work can be draining, Shapiro said. Knowing your obligations ahead of time will help you ration your social energy — making everything from group meetings to cocktail parties less depleting. 

You can keep these conversations going over time, too. If your extroverted boss makes major company decisions during brainstorming sessions, remind them that you often need more time to process before you can contribute.

Or, better yet, suggest a fix that would work for both you and others on the team — like a Slack channel, or some other kind of forum, for adding more thoughts within 24 hours of the meeting.

That helps everyone, Shapiro said: Introverts will have a space to share "the brilliant ideas" they'll inevitably have after the meeting, while everyone else benefits from getting more ideas on the table.

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