In Happiness Strategy 12: Make peace with your personality we learned the ‘Big-Five’ dimensions of personality are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism and we saw that extraversion and neuroticism are particularly related to happiness.
According to Daniel Nettle of Newcastle University in the UK, regardless of your personality composition there’s an ideal environment for you (New Scientist 9 February 2008).
Nettle notes that for each personality dimension there’s both an upside and downside.
- In his own study extraverts had more sexual partners and enjoyed greater career and economic success (they’re also more likely to be ‘born happy’ as well as act in ways that promote happiness). On the other hand extraverts suffered more injury- and accident-related hospitalization and greater family instability, including divorce.
- Agreeable people attract and keep friends and enjoy plenty of social support. The cost, however, is often their own priorities, which they sacrifice for the sake of others.
- Conscientiousness can help a person gets things done but it can also close their eyes to opportunities that distractible people notice and exploit.
- Openness can serve people well in historical/cultural contexts that value artistic qualities but not in times where more practical qualities are needed.
- Neuroticism (which is related to unhappiness) can be an asset in times of genuine threat.
Nettle’s point is that knowing your personality puts you in touch with its pros and cons. And that helps you make better choices for happiness.
Happiness life strategy
It’s no secret to Happiness Strategies readers that I score high on both introversion and neuroticism. Realizing I had these predispositions gave me two of my most reliable and effective happiness strategies.
1. Recognizing my introverted tendencies led me to re-structure my life to have more alone time. I changed my work situation so I can work from home and I stopped going out so much. I now feel drained much less and enjoy my social time much more. I look forward to being with people!
2. Facing my inner neurotic helped me pay less attention to my worries – I realized they weren’t necessarily ‘real’. It also helped me accept and enjoy my pleasure in order and tidiness – it was simply a quirk, so I could enjoy it instead of trying to deconstruct or change it.
Want to know yourself a little better? You could do an online personality test or read more about the Big Five dimensions. But you probably already have a good sense of your personality, and can gain more insight simply by tuning in.
By becoming more aware of your predispositions you too can work with them for greater happiness. For instance:
If you feel resentful that your preferences often get pushed aside, realize your part in this. You could choose to raise your own priorities a smidge and lower your need to be loved by everyone all the time.
If you’re not so good at being organized and getting things done, office manager may not be the career for you. Look for opportunities that reward flexibility and don’t require routine – perhaps sales or creative work.
If you feel constrained by your friends you may benefit from looking for new people in your life. Instead of doing the things you find stifling, explore courses, classes or groups with interests that stimulate you. You might find a whole new dimension to yourself!
As Nettle says,
If your personality causes you grief, why not try changing the niche you occupy in this complex system that is modern life?