A note on happiness and personality

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Contemporary research into personality focuses more and more on the "big five" personality traits: introversion-extraversion, neuroticism (or negative affectivity), openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (e.g., Digman, 1990; McCrae, 1992). A host of studies indicate that individuals who score highly on extraversion and/or low on neuroticism tend to report greater happiness (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1980; Diener & Lucas, 1999; Emmons & Diener, 1985). Similarly, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness also make contributions to self-reported happiness over and above the contributions of the other big five dimensions. Indeed, McCrae and Costa (1991) found that the five factors together accounted for some 25% of the variance of avowed happiness.

Other researchers have delved more deeply into the processes that relate personality characteristics to emotional well-being or happiness. For example, Pavot, Diener, and Fujita (1990) and Diener, Sandvik, Pavot, and Fujita (1992) showed that extraverts report being happier even when alone, and were happier than introverts regardless of whether or not they worked in a social or non-social job. Furthermore, Larsen and Ketelaar (1991) showed that extraverts were more susceptible than introverts to experimentally induced positive affect, whereas high-neuroticism participants were more susceptible than stable participants to negative mood inductions.

At the present time, the jury is still out as to what the processes that link personality characteristics and happiness might be. Averill and More (2000) suggest that similar mechanisms may facilitate both a particular personality trait and the emotion of happiness, thus explaining the relation between the two. For example, with the case of extraversion they suggest that extraverts may be inherently less sensitive to negative reinforcement or punishment, or that extraverts may be more engaged in convivial activities, or, finally, that they may be more likely to make favourable comparisons between the self and others.

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