People whose emotions are more stable have better mental health, research finds.
Stable emotions are linked to low levels of neuroticism, one of the five major personality traits.
People low in neuroticism report frequently feeling calm, unstressed and satisfied.
Indeed, people generally report feeling even more content, positive and cheerful in their middle and later years.
In other words, most people become more satisfied with their lives with age — and that is linked to good mental health.
However, people who are high in neuroticism tend to have more mental health problems, explained Dr Rebecca Ready, the study’s first author:
“People who score high on a neuroticism scale had less mental well-being over time and this pattern was stronger for older and midlife adults than for younger persons.”
The results come from 1,503 people who were followed over 10 years.
People whose personality was most stable at the start of the decade were least likely to experience common mental health problems like depression and anxiety at the end of the period.
The results showed that being neurotic was particularly problematic for older people.
Dr Ready said:
“On average, neuroticism tends to decrease during adult development, but not at the same rate for everyone.
Such decreases may result in better, broader and richer emotional experiences in later life.
This hypothesis is supported by results of the current study.”
Many people incorrectly think personality traits cannot change.
However, people can become significantly less neurotic after undergoing therapy, research finds.
Dr Ready said:
“We did not assess risk for future depressive disorders but it is reasonable to speculate that older and midlife adults high in neuroticism are at greater risk for depressive symptoms in the future than are persons lower in neuroticism.
They may also experience less well-being and may have less tolerance for complex emotions.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Aging and Mental Health (Ready et al., 2012).