Two co-workers chatting at the office.

Happiness can feel elusive. Everyone strives to nail down this tricky, fickle state of feeling cheerful and content with their life, though some struggle more than others. But what if the answer to being happier was simply being nicer? 

Some evidence suggests that the nicer you are, the happier you are. Why? There are many reasons, but it mostly boils down to how "Agreeable" you are in the Big Five system of personality. In numerous studies, Agreeableness has been shown to influence your overall satisfaction with your life, as well as how happy you feel day-to-day as you go about your work, home life and social activities. 

But what does it mean to be Agreeable? Here’s what the research says and how you can strive to be nicer—and happier—in your own life. 

The happiness and Agreeableness link

It might seem a bit trite to conflate happiness with niceness, but the idea isn’t new—nor is it something you should write off. 

One 2023 report from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology points to a correlation between high Extraversion and high Agreeableness on the Big Five to a better social life. In terms of friendships, Agreeableness ranked extremely high in importance in the ability to make and keep platonic relationships. 

Another review of research on kindness suggests that kind people had a higher well-being than those who didn’t practice kindness. Kindness, of course, is usually a quality of being nice. 

Yet another study titled “Agreeableness and Its Consequences: A Quantitative Review of Meta-Analytic Findings” analyzed data from over 1.9 million people across 3,900 studies. The findings? Agreeableness significantly impacts multiple areas of life in positive ways, including satisfaction and happiness.

What about career happiness?

The same study, “Agreeableness and Its Consequences,” also pointed to Agreeableness as a trait related to higher job performance and success. According to the researchers, Michael Wilmot and Deniz Ones, if you score high in Agreeableness, you are:

  • More content in the present and, therefore, able to adjust to change.
  • Growth-minded but also motivated to show concern for others.
  • Invested in both relationships at work and your work quality.
  • Less likely to break the rules. 
  • Able to use your empathy to connect with teammates on projects to reach a shared goal.

All of these elements contribute to a more positive and fulfilling work experience, which can increase career happiness. Empathy, in particular, has been shown to be a key trait for success in the workplace, as it helps develop a real sense of connection between colleagues and a culture where everyone wants to support each other because they feel valued, heard and understood. 

What does Agreeableness measure in the Big Five?

Does ‘Agreeableness’ merely measure niceness? Not quite. The Agreeableness trait in the Big Five measures empathy and how willing you are to put other people’s needs above your own. People who score high in Agreeableness have high empathy and enjoy caring for others. 

On the flip side, scoring low in Agreeableness means you tend to put your needs and concerns ahead of anyone else, and you experience less empathy. 

Key indicators you have high Agreeableness include:

If you have low Agreeableness, you may identify with these habits more:

  • You struggle to get along well with others
  • You don’t trust others easily
  • You’re more competitive
  • You aren’t often sympathetic to the needs of others 
  • You care for your close friends and family but are highly selective
  • You are suspicious of people’s motives
  • Teamwork is a struggle for you
  • You are ambitious and self-minded
  • You aren’t swayed by the opinions of others

The Big Five personality system measures on a percentile. For example, you may score 80% on Agreeableness, which is in the high percentile, but you still have 20% that falls into the ‘Disagreeable’ category. It’s possible to have a low, medium or high score, so someone with a 49% Agreeable score is almost a 50-50 split between the habits listed above.

Can you increase your Agreeableness?

Although personality theory asserts much of your personality is a combination of nature and nurture, you can do small things to increase your "niceness" and become more agreeable. 

There’s also evidence that your personality might shift as you age, and there seems to be a correlation with higher Agreeableness in middle-aged people and older groups.

But rather than counting on becoming more Agreeable after some years pass, you can take definitive action to work toward being nicer and, thus, increasing your happiness.

If you don’t know your Big Five personality, you can take the free Big Five personality test to see where you rank on the Agreeableness scale, or the Agreeableness test, which just measures how Agreeable you are. 

Here are some tips to increase your Agreeableness:

  • Spend time with people who score high in Agreeableness.
  • Try thinking of others before yourself. This will be a conscious practice.
  • Volunteer somewhere you can do some good.
  • Learn to recognize negative thoughts. Breathe and let them pass, rather than letting them affect the people around you.
  • Avoid spending time with others who have a pessimistic worldview.
  • Practice collaboration.
  • Seek genuine connections and practice active listening.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Don’t always think of life as a competition.
  • Take time to do something nice for someone you love. Then, do the same for an acquaintance or a stranger.
  • Make compliments and kind words a part of your vocabulary.
  • Extend kindness to yourself… and then learn to do so with others.

Seeking happiness is a life-long pursuit

Although you may not score high on the Agreeableness scale overnight, you can still practice kindness and connection with others—and the evidence seems to point to this as a major factor of happiness. Still, there are other ways to seek and find happiness, as no person is the same. 

Finding meaningful, lasting relationships to bolster your support system is a good place to start. A 2017 Harvard study found that maintaining lasting relationships was the number one factor in happiness. Finding a job that makes you happy is another major contributor to a contented life. 

On a smaller scale, happiness comes when you fill your life with the things that matter to you. Small habits can make huge differences in your daily happiness, so find and practice activities  that make you feel fulfilled and bring joy. If your happiness fell by the wayside as responsibilities piled up, resolve to pick up that old hobby that used to bring you so much joy.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.