Being a flextrovert is more important than trying to be happy

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Over the last few days, close on 300 people have been arrested in London. Over the last few months, nearly 2,000 people have been injured in protests in Paris. Over the last few years, thousands of women have marched in cities across the USA. At some point, at some level, all of them will probably have been motivated by anger - about climate change, economic justice and President Trump respectively.

Anger is usually seen as a negative emotion - an unqualified bad experience for everyone involved. And, of course, it can be. But the protests above are seen by many people as a good thing, so maybe anger is a force for good, depending on the situation which triggers it and the way it's expressed.

In other words, it depends - sometimes 'negative' emotions can be more appropriate than 'positive' ones. What that suggests is that it's our ability to adapt to the situation which is more important than constantly trying to be happy. Focusing on psychological flexibility also allows us to get on with living rich, meaningful lives right now rather than thinking that we have to work at eliminating 'negative' emotions before we can live 'happy' lives. In short, opening up to a range of emotional and behavioural responses to cope with life's difficulties may well be the most important element in maintaining wellbeing.

Why it's good to be a flextrovert

Professor Karen Pine describes this ability to adopt a psychological flexible approach as being a flextrovert - these are people with three key characteristics:

  1. Flextraverts act in a way that’s best for each situation

  2. Flextraverts are open to new experiences

  3. Flextraverts are willing to take risks to make meaningful connections with others

There's plenty of evidence to support the view that flextroversion is good for wellbeing. Young adults who successfully develop greater psychological flexibility are more effective at coping with stress often because they are better at distinguishing between things they have control over and things they don't. This then means they are better at adopting the most effective strategy - for example, problem-solving for things they can control and re-appraisal for things they can't. If they do experience stress, they are also quicker to recover from it. Flextroverts are less likely to be depressed, and less likely to be anxious. They're even physically healthier and better at coping with pain. Finally, flextroverts are more tolerant of other people. In a world which feels as though it's becoming more polarised, that would seems to be a really important characteristic to develop.

In short, the more able you are to flexibly adopt the optimum strategy for any given life event, the better off you'll be. That may sound obvious but, given that single coping strategies go in and out of fashion, this message often gets lost in the zeitgeist. Right now, for example, we're in the mindfulness craze and you'd be forgiven for thinking this is all you need to solve every conceivable problem from productivity at work to losing a pet. I'm not saying it doesn't help with these things, but we need more than a single method.

Flextrovert dynamic time management

For example, flextroversion challenges the idea that mindfulness, or any other approach, is always the best response to a situation. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment and sometimes this is highly beneficial. But sometimes it's better to think about the future - clarifying values and planning for how to achieve goals. Sometimes it's great to dwell on the past - making sense of our identity by processing autobiographical memories. People who are flexible enough to balance the time they spend thinking in the past present and future are have higher life satisfaction and greater wellbeing.

The same effects are found for people flexible enough to balance time spent across work, school, leisure and relationships. Importantly, flextroverts do not balance these different parts of their life by keeping a steady allocation of time across all domains. They're not effective because they say to themselves, 'I'm going to make sure I have one hour a day at the gym.' It's quite the opposite - flextroverts are able to constantly, dynamically, shift the balance of time given to the various parts of their life as required.

I'm in! How do I become more flextrovert?

It's actually very easy, but that's going to be the focus of the next few blogs. For now, check out Professor Karen Pine's TED talk: