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A study suggests that people with the Big Five personality traits tend to have higher life satisfaction throughout their lifespan. Julia Forsman/Stocksy
  • The links between personality types that are associated with higher life satisfaction persist throughout life, strengthening with age, according to a new study.
  • The study is based on the Big Five personality model and life satisfaction data from people living in the Netherlands.
  • The personality type most strongly associated with life satisfaction is a high level of emotional stability.

Researchers have believed for some time that certain personality types are more closely associated with finding satisfaction in life than others.

A recent study explores for the first time whether these associations are linked to particular life phases or if they hold true at all ages. The study is based on the Big Five personality model some psychologists employ to describe many human demeanors. Several personality traits are particularly linked to feeling satisfied with life.

The study finds that personality traits associated with being satisfied apply equally to all life phases and actually get stronger during later years. People who are emotionally stable — and non-neurotic in Big Five terms — are those most likely to feel generally satisfied with life.

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Researchers also found that work satisfaction is closely tied to conscientiousness, while social satisfaction is closely linked to extraversion and agreeableness.

The study analyzes public, de-identified data collected for the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences panel survey from 2008 to 2019. The survey’s 9,110 participants were a nationally representative sample of people residing in the Netherlands aged 16 to 95.

The study is published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The Big Five are broad personality traits that characterize how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Sequentially, their first letters spell “OCEAN.”

Some psychologists use slightly different names for the traits, and it is important to note that no personality can be exclusively described by any one type, and most people have a combination. The traits are described by their most extreme expressions.

  • Openness — describes a person who is open to new experiences. With a high level of the trait, they may engage in “magical thinking” and may be eccentric. When someone has a lack of Openness, they are inflexible and closed-minded.
  • Conscientiousness — describes a motivated, perfectionist workaholic with high conscientiousness and an irresponsible, distractible, or thoughtless person with too little of the trait.
  • Extraversion — described as a social person who may also be an excitement- and attention seeker. With a shortage of extraversion, a person is withdrawn or may be cold to others.
  • Agreeableness — describes people who want to get along and maybe selfless in their attempts to do so. They may also be submissive and gullible. Low levels of agreeableness can result in being deceitful, manipulative, uncaring, or suspicious.
  • Neuroticism — describes people who are insecure, overly emotional, and perhaps depressive and helpless. Low levels of neuroticism are associated with fearlessness and shamelessness.

When a person is neither high-neurotic nor low-neurotic but is balanced between them, emotional stability — the key driver of life satisfaction, occurs.

“This study was the first one to tell us that certain personality traits are more linked with satisfaction across the lifespan,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Alisa Ruby Bash, who was not involved in the study. “Although other studies have explored the connection between personality traits, and life satisfaction, this one looks at it long-term.”

The study examines the interaction between two things that change as people move through different life phases: the environment in which they function and their personalities.

For example, an extroverted person may enjoy their life during their young adult years as they continually meet new people and expand their social horizons. What was less clear before this study is how they feel later in life when their relationships have largely been established and activity patterns set. There is likely to be less social interaction available.

“But if we are extroverted, easy to get along with, reliable, dependable, and make an effort, people will want to be around us and include us more in social activities, and appreciate our presence,” Dr. Bash explained.

Our personalities are not fixed, although heredity likely plays a role, and perhaps a large one.

According to psychologist Dr. Adam Feltz, who was not involved in the study:

“Right now, the best estimates are about 50%. There is a lot of controversy around these estimates because it is very difficult to identify how much of the variation in personality is a result of shared environments versus shared genes.”

Dr. Feltz added that data suggests personality is relatively stable in early childhood, tends to undergo significant change through adolescence, and then stabilizes again in adulthood.

Even so, said Dr. Feltz, “people on average tend to become more agreeable with age.”

“Through working on organizational skills, being more open, more friendly and outgoing, we can increase our happiness in different areas of our life over time,” said Dr. Bash.

Indeed, one of the study’s findings was that the relationship between personality traits and satisfaction grows somewhat stronger.

“It has to do with the saying, ‘what you put out, you get back,’” said Dr. Bash. “When we are uplifting and positive, people want to be around us, and give us more love and appreciation.”

Dr. Feltz cautioned that finding causal links between emotional stability and satisfaction is difficult.

Still, he noted:

“There is some evidence that those who are low in emotional stability earn less money over their life, which may contribute to low subjective well-being.”

Dr. Feltz added that low emotional stability might also predict lower mental health in adulthood and a more challenging over-reactiveness to stressors. This can also affect satisfaction levels.

On the other hand, Dr. Bash said there are clear benefits to emotional stability — a lack of drama, worry, and emotional suffering — being non-neurotic “impacts all areas of our lives.”

“If we are able to be reliable, predictable, have a good attitude when challenges arise,” she said, “and not lose time when we are in a crisis, then, obviously, we can be more productive, and this affects our careers, our personal relationships, our friendships, our family relationships, and more.”