The best personality traits for happiness differ for work and play.
The personality trait most strongly linked to happiness right across the lifespan is emotional stability, research finds.
People who are high in emotional stability, which is the opposite of being neurotic, tend to be positive, have high self-control along with the ability to manage psychological stress effectively.
Looking specifically at work and social satisfaction, though, other personality traits were also important along with emotional stability.
For work satisfaction, the best personality trait was conscientiousness, a trait linked to being self-disciplined and aiming for achievement.
For social satisfaction, though, extraversion and agreeableness were most strongly linked to happiness.
Happiness across the lifespan
The conclusions come from a study exploring how the link between personality and happiness might change with age.
Dr Gabriel Olaru, the study’s first author, said:
“Many studies have shown that people with certain personality profiles are more satisfied with their life than others.
Yet, it had not been extensively studied whether this holds true across the lifespan.
For example, extraverted—that is sociable, talkative—people might be particularly happy in young adulthood, when they typically are forming new social relationships.
We thus wanted to examine if some personality traits are more or less relevant to life, social and work satisfaction in specific life phases.”
The study included over 9,000 Dutch adults of all ages who were tracked over more than a decade.
The results showed that the connections between life satisfaction and personality remained much the same over the lifespan.
Dr Manon van Scheppingen, study co-author, said:
“Our findings show that—despite differences in life challenges and social roles—personality traits are relevant for our satisfaction with life, work and social contacts across young, middle and older adulthood.
The personality traits remained equally relevant across the adult lifespan, or became even more interconnected in some cases for work satisfaction.”
Personality and environment interact
People’s personality also interacts with the environment, explained Dr van Scheppingen:
“A good example of how personality interacts with the environment can be found in the work context.
One of our findings was that the link between emotional stability and work satisfaction increases across age.
This might be explained by the fact that emotionally stable people are less scared to quit unsatisfactory jobs and more likely to apply for jobs that are more challenging and perhaps more fulfilling and enjoyable in the long run.”
Despite what many believe, personality is capable of change, said Dr van Scheppingen:
“While we did not examine what caused these changes, [the research] shows that our personalities and our happiness are not set in stone.
Perhaps we may even be able to influence how we change: If we try to become more organized, outgoing, friendly, this might increase life, social or work satisfaction as well.”
→ Related: How To Change Your Personality
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Olaru et al., 2023).
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
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