People Who Have These ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits are Happier Throughout Their Lives
People who are emotionally stable, conscientious, and agreeable may experience more satisfaction with their lives, according to new research.
The report, published Monday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, evaluated how the Big Five personality traits — emotional stability, extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness — correlated to work, social, and life satisfaction across the adult lifespan.
Past researchTrusted Source has found that people with certain personality traits, like extroversion, are generally happier than others, however, until now it’s been unclear if this remains the case as people get older.
According to the findings, despite changes in living environments and experiences, the Big 5 personality traits continue to be strongly associated with life satisfaction across the lifespan.
“The personality traits remained equally relevant to life, social or work satisfaction across the adult lifespan, or became even more inter-connected in some cases for work satisfaction,” Manon van Scheppingen, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Tilburg University and one of the study’s co-authors, told Healthline.
Our personality traits greatly influence happiness throughout our lives
To better understand how the relationship between personality and life satisfaction shifts as people age, the researchers evaluated data that was sourced from 9,110 Dutch individuals.
Over the course of 11 years, the participants, who were between ages 16 to 95, completed multiple surveys about their personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability/neuroticism — and their satisfaction with their social relationships, careers, and lives.
The team found that the link between personality traits and life satisfaction was stable across the lifespan, meaning that, no matter one’s age, personality traits continue to strongly influence their overall satisfaction in life.
Emotional stability — which helps people see their world in a less negative light, says Dr. van Scheppingen — was the greatest predictor of happiness.
“The findings indicated that emotional stability — a trait related to coping with stress, regulating emotions, and being flexible in the face of challenge and changes — was the most powerful predictor of overall satisfaction with life and career,” Janelle S. Peifer, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, said.
The team also found that different traits had a bigger impact on different facets of life — conscientiousness, for example, was more closely linked to work satisfaction whereas extraversion and agreeableness had a greater effect on social satisfaction.
People who scored higher in any of the Big 5 personality traits as they aged, in general, experienced more satisfaction later in life, suggesting that our personality traits are not set in stone.
This was especially pronounced with openness — those who became more open as they aged reported the biggest increases in life satisfaction.
People who are open tend to be imaginative, curious, and creative, says David Spiegel, MD, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
“If there are good possibilities around the corner, they are more likely to find and welcome them,” says Dr. Spiegel.
In addition, the relationship between emotional stability and work satisfaction strengthened as people aged, which the researchers suspect is because older people are more willing to leave unfulfilling jobs and apply for more challenging roles.
“In this way, emotional stability interacts with the work environment to increasingly contribute to our satisfaction in this life domain,” van Scheppingen said.
More research is needed to understand how other factors — like income, marital status, employment status, and health — impact both personality traits and life satisfaction throughout our lives, according to the researchers.
“The interaction between ourselves, our traits, and our experiences is complex and ongoing,” says Dr. Peifer.
Personality remains an important, yet malleable, part of happiness
Personality traits tend to remain stable, says Peifer, but they can change across our lifespan.
As adolescents age and biologically mature, for example, they tend to become more emotionally stable, which can boost life satisfaction.
People’s environments and experiences may profoundly impact people’s behaviors, personality traits, and emotions, and consequently, their satisfaction in life.
The researchers provided the example that joining a social club, for instance, could boost an individual’s extraversion, making them more satisfied socially.
On the flip side, being in a problematic romantic relationship could lead to more negative personality changes — such as a drop in emotional stability — diminishing life satisfaction.
According to van Scheppingen, past research suggests people can influence, and change, their personalities.
“If we try to become more curious, outgoing, or disciplined — to name some examples — this might increase our happiness as well,” van Scheppingen said.
Another tactic is to study your personality and find activities that match your personality traits, which can also help boost your happiness, he added.
“While individuals can always seek to develop new skills, like extraversion, comfort in novel situations, emotional stability, and agreeableness, there is also space to investigate what types of spaces will help you thrive as you are,” Peifer said.
The bottom line
New research evaluated how our personality traits impact happiness and found that those who are emotionally stable, conscientious, and agreeable tend to experience more satisfaction with their lives.
Furthermore, while our personality remains equally influential on life satisfaction across the lifespan, people’s personality traits can and do change as they age.