Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts

I really enjoyed Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet.” Here’s the review I posted here in January.

There’s a lot to love about this talk, including her wonderful, moving story about her grandfather and his modest presence.

But the quote that really resonated with me is “Solitude for some people…is the air that they breathe.” This is totally worth 20 minutes of your time.

Query: How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

(I don’t know who she is but this is funny.)

It’s a total Bridget Jone’s Diary-type cliche, is it not, to consider gorging myself on chocolate while the trillions of coupled people go out into the world and court each other in beautiful outfits and what not?

I go back and forth on Cupid’s special day, really I do. I love romance and courtship. Roses. Adult beverages. Cuddling. I sent a Banksy card to a guy I really like, and it has a heart on it. With a poem inside. That’s about as far as I plan to go.

I have done everything from stock up on food the day before and stay home listening to music and watching movies on February 14th to attending horrific singles events featuring men at least 20 years my senior.

Unfortunately, our culture goes overboard with the Valentine’s Day Presents Mean You Love Me thing. TV and movies have destroyed us for tailoring romance and affection to each other in relationships.

Maybe more people are starting to get the hint. Fewer people in the past five years have celebrated Valentine’s Day, from roughly 70 percent of people surveyed in 2007 to a little less than 60 percent. But people still spend about $9 billion on Valentine’s Day stuff.

I like the idea of Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Tumblr, Occupy Valentine’s Day. (You can follow me on Tumblr here, if you like.) Mukhopadhyay wrote a great book I’ve written a little about, “Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life” and she is an editor at

Since I blog about singles most of the time anyway, I fall into the category of Most Likely To Participate in this Cool Idea, but here’s some info about the movement and what inspired it:

The yearly celebration of Valentine’s Day—defended as an innocent and harmless tribute to love—often serves to remind us that either our romantic situation is not good enough or our single status is a tragedy.

Most people, coupled or otherwise, can’t stand Valentine’s Day. It puts pressure on couples to be a certain way, it privileges one type of love (think heteronormativity!) and it makes single people feel incomplete.

Celebrating love and romance is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t depend on buying certain products for the perfect experience (hello, romantic industrial complex) or on your gender, sexuality, race, class status or marital status.

Here’s a little more about Occupying Valentine’s Day at Time Magazine and Technorati. For you singles out there: what do you usually do on Valentine’s Day? Ignore it? Celebrate with your other single friends?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts – A Review

The reason this blog is called Single & Happy is not to rub people’s noses in my joy, as fun as that would be. It came to me when I was thinking about the basic message I wanted to convey in my work & I realized that the idea of a woman who enjoys her own company for its own sake — just to be, or think or dance — is oddly foreign in our culture. It’s odd, too, because if women can’t enjoy our own company — also known as by that dreadful phrase, “being alone” — how can we ever expect someone else to make us happy?

The other thing is that American culture loves extroverts. They’re charming go-getters, high energy, up all night, talking all day. I love them. I have loved some. They are exhausting. I thought it was just them being ridiculous energy-sucking vampires, but no. I’m just an introvert.

Stereotypes abound about introverts. They are recluses, hermits. Socially awkward. People haters!!

Well, I love a good party. Love to interact one on one. My friends will tell you, if I don’t bribe them with hush money, that I often snort when I laugh, which is often when I’m around small groups. As a journalist, I have always listened deeply to people in order to tell their stories. It was my reporting career that kept me from knowing how much of an introvert I really am until recently, when I somehow stumbled upon Susan Cain’s blog before I knew she was working on the book,  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, which was published last week.

Reading the book made me feel like I had found my long-lost tribe. Replenished by time spent thinking, creating and reading? Check. Cain writes in her book about the sensitivity of introverts and the range of behaviors they adopt to manage their receptiveness to too much stimulation. She explained (finally!) why I always want to hide in the bathroom after I’ve been standing in front of folks talking for longer than 30 minutes. (Harvard University introverts do this, Cain writes. My people!) She writes about how America got to be so excited about extroverts: starting with Dale Carnegie and working her way through the century to icons of extroversion like Tony Robbins.
I devoured Cain’s reportage with such uncharacteristic glee that I had to physically restrain myself from laughing out loud, crying, then gently tapping the shoulder of the person next to me on an airplane to say, “She gets me.” As a newly proud introvert — like Albert Einstein (you think he would mind if I called him Al, now that we have that whole introverted thing in common?) and Gandhi (GANDHI!?) — it was a relief to read that you can own enjoying time to recharge but also express your extrovert self in service of the things you believe in deeply. To make the world better. In other words, when you’re passionate about something, like, say, people not beating themselves up for being single in a world full of couples (ahem), the extroverted stuff comes out or takes less energy.

Here are snippets of what I learned:

  • The Cult of the Extroverted Ideal began with Dale Carnegie, who also contributed to a self-help empire that is today an $11 billion-dollar-a-year industry (Shameless plug: Me and my talented writer friend Diana Bee Dash Bee wrote about that self-helpy thing for Bitch Magazine a couple of years ago.)
  • Extroversion is less prevalent in Asia and Africa than in Europe and the Americas in part because the latter nations are nations of migrants.
  • Women were taught to be demure, men to be salespeople (Oh, I guess I already knew that.)
  • Her description of Tony Robbins seminars make them sound like a nightmare for an introvert. She doesn’t set him up as a hypocrite, but her description of them is reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Brightsided without some of Ehrenreich’s delightful crabbiness.
  • I had no idea that 20 percent of the Fortune 500 were Harvard Business School grads where Cain notes most practically go to the bathroom in teams.

I loved the sweet attention to detail and celebration of introverted people and children in a world that often makes people who are introverted feel like hermetic morons who just need a seminar or two to get right with the world. The book is a great gift, since I think it will help clear up a lot of misunderstood qualities of introverts/extroverts. I have a feeling that only introverts will read it, though, which would be a shame. But if you’re not going to buy the book, loud, gregarious, making-me-look-bad people, at least visit the blog once a week. In private. Maybe in a bathroom stall? I won’t tell anybody. Introverts know how to keep things to ourselves.

Susan Cain on The Rise of the New Groupthink

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. ~Susan Cain, “The Rise of the New Groupthink

I’ve been reading a review copy of Susan Cain’s forthcoming book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” which I’ll review here shortly.

I’m a big fan of her blog and of the book so far, in part because one of the reasons I started getting annoyed about so much of the rhetoric out there about single women comes from my own attitudes about solitude. I’m probably closer to what Cain calls an ambivert — someone who is recharged in solitude and doesn’t mind spending time alone but also loves people. But in the past year, I have really embraced my introverted nature as a creative writer. With the rise of new media and so many ways to continually connect all the time, it’s a challenge to find the freedom and space to think that I used to enjoy as a teenager and a kid — my heart really goes out to kids who are introverted and growing up in this time that pressures them to be extroverted even if they are strongest and most fulfilled working solo.

It’s been refreshing to read the Op-Ed above, a recent NY Times piece by Pico Iyer and Cain’s important book on this topic. I always find it important to point out to people that I don’t want to be a reclusive hermit and shut out the world just because I find joy and creativity and room to flesh out important ideas in solitude. It’s just that it is possible to have deep joy, for me and people like me, in solitude. It’s not all about wringing my hands in anticipation of the next social outing. This is definitely worth reading. More on Susan Cain’s wonderful book in a week or so.


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