Choose happy, or so goes the Instagram quote. Yes, in the age of social media and positive thinking, we’re all supposed to have mastered the art of being continuously content. The truth, that we so conveniently ignore, is no one is happy all of the time.
Despite this, there’s no denying the fact that some people are more prone to good moods than others. We all know the type — the walking rays of sunshine who always seem to breeze through the hardships of life. Love them or hate them, you might wonder what these individuals have that the rest of us don’t: Why are some people perpetually happy?
The answer could be their personality. Your individual traits directly affect how you handle life’s ups and downs and may affect whether you are naturally optimistic and positive. In this article, we will take a look at what the research says and what you can do if your personality is getting you down.
What Actually Is Happiness?
First up, let’s deal with a philosophical question: What actually is happiness? The human spectrum of emotions is vast and we typically have limited vocabulary to describe it. With that in mind, it’s worth acknowledging that this singular word can express various feelings.
“Happiness means different things to different people,” says Dr. Jessica Stern, Ph.D., a psychologist and researcher at the University of Virginia. While there may be a rainbow array of emotions encapsulated here, she pinpoints three different types of happiness:
● Hedonistic happiness
Best-described as short-lived desire, hedonistic happiness often comes from base urges. For example, this emotion may be derived from satisfying sex, delicious food or a fun activity. These minute pleasures impact our overall experience of day-to-day life.
● Eudaimonic happiness
On a somewhat deeper level, eudaimonic happiness is about having a sense of purpose in your life. While there’s no English word for this, the Japanese term "ikigai" comes relatively close, as does the French "raison d’etre." For some, satisfaction may come from raising a family while other more career-driven individuals may find that their job fulfills them.
● Intellectual richness
Do you have a deep interest that sparks joy? If you’re a bookworm, there may be nothing more enticing than curling up with your favorite novel in hand. Should you have a passion for American history, you may get a buzz from watching a documentary. That type of happiness is known as intellectual richness and can easily be accessed once you find it.
Extraverts May Be Generally Happier Than Introverts
One of the most fundamental facets of our personalities is Extraversion vs. Introversion. For most of us, our orientation is apparent from childhood. You might be the social butterfly, most comfortable when you’re flitting from friend to friend. Or conversely, you may be the quiet kid who prefers alone time. While you can experience minor shifts over your lifetime and some Extraversion may be learned, your core persuasion will remain relatively static.
So, how does this affect our emotional well-being? As you might imagine, the research suggests that outgoing individuals are generally happier than Introverts. Within a study aptly entitled Personality and Well-being Across the Life-Span, the authors noted that Extraversion was associated with “happiness, life satisfaction, and positive affect.”
Of course, the jury’s out on why exactly Extraversion and happiness are linked. However, one popular school of thought is that those with Extravert tendencies find it easier to make close relationships, which may lead to better life experiences and more social support.
“Social relationships are fundamental to human wellbeing. In Western cultures, where Extraversion is more highly-valued, research shows that Extraverts typically have higher levels of social connectedness, which in turn boosts wellbeing,” explains Dr. Stern.
It likely doesn’t end there. Extraversion is an advantageous personality trait — allowing people to excel in their careers, become inspiring leaders and relate to the people around them. Thanks to these benefits, people who are Extravert-leaning often gain validation.
“The association between Extraversion and positive affect is one of the most robust findings in the study of personality and emotion,” adds Dr. Julie Landry, a board-certified clinical psychologist in private practice. “One hypothesis is that Extraverted tendencies are valued in many societies and Extraverts are happy because their behavior is rewarded.”
It’s not all doom and gloom. Whether you’re Extraverted or Introverted, fostering solid social relationships is an effective way to live a more contented life. Even the most solitary of characters will benefit by finding their tribe. In addition, as Dr. Stern notes, your immediate environment will also play a role in how happy you are on a daily basis.
“High-quality relationships are vital to our happiness, even for Introverts. Our recent research shows that supportive relationships during the teenage years predict positive personality changes 20 years later,” explains Dr. Stern. “Beyond the individual, the context in which we live has profound effects on wellbeing — that context includes things like poverty, experiences of social oppression, and global events like COVID-19.”
The Neuroticism Effect and How It Dictates Your Well-Being
As one of the Big Five personality traits, neuroticism dictates so much of our human experience. Of course, how neurotic you are depends on both your genetics and other external factors — it’s the whole nature vs. nurture debate. But the higher your individual neuroticism levels, the more likely it is to infringe on your happiness.
“Neuroticism refers to our tendency to experience negative emotions — like anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, and irritability,” says Dr. Stern. “So it’s no surprise that neuroticism is a key risk factor for mental and physical health problems over the life course. Mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression take a heavy toll on well-being.”
Neurotic people face additional struggles, namely in their personal lives. “Neuroticism can have negative impacts on personal relationships. It may lead to higher levels of conflict, being overly critical of others, or being overly dependent on others,” says Dr. Landry.
If you have high levels of neuroticism, that may stay fixed. However, you can learn to manage some of the side effects that this trait has. For example, you may choose to get therapy to allow you to cope with mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression.
How to Increase Your Happiness — Whatever Your Personality
The good news is that you can learn to be happier. “We can all improve our emotional well-being, no matter what our personality. Genetic and personality traits may ‘anchor’ how much change we can expect to see — but because our brains are highly ‘plastic,’ it’s possible to increase our well-being over time and with practice,” explains Dr. Stern.
Embarking on a journey towards newfound happiness is doubtless a noble mission. However, it’s a mistake to presume it will all be smooth sailing. As Dr. Stern explains, this change takes a multi-faceted approach that touches on every aspect of your day-to-day lifestyle. “But for it to stick, we also need the necessary support from our environment, like our friends, romantic partners and larger social systems,” she says.
You don’t have to overhaul your entire life, but there are changes you can make. If you’re looking for a way to enhance your happiness, here are some approaches to try:
● Manage stress
Stress isn’t the only factor limiting your happiness, but it would be a mistake to ignore it. “Chronic stress can make you feel more negative,” explains Dr. Landy. And while you can’t rid your life of stress entirely, you can manage it better. “Learning what causes or triggers stress and what coping strategies work for you can make room for positive emotions.”
● Practice mindfulness
More than a buzzword, mindfulness is about learning to be present and aware of what you’re doing. “Mindfulness can help you manage your emotions by keeping you in the present moment and can reduce feelings of stress,” says Dr. Landry.
You don’t have to be a mental health guru to get started with this practice. It might be as simple as taking a walk in a local park, making yourself a healthy meal or even reading a book. Focusing on something external and getting out of your head is a positive move.
● Keep a gratitude journal
What are you thankful for today? If you haven’t given it any thought, perhaps it’s time that you did. “Expressing gratitude makes us happier and more satisfied with life even if we don't express it to someone else,” says Dr. Landry. The simple act of writing down the things that you’re grateful for could lift your spirits. Grab a notebook and get started.
Your personality will most certainly impact your mood — but, that’s not to say that you have zero control over your emotions. Regardless of your character traits, there are ways that you can improve your well-being. Making small but significant changes to your lifestyle could be the answer to becoming a more positive person. However, it’s important to keep sight of the fact that being continuously happy is not natural. We all experience dips and peaks in our feelings and that is perfectly normal. Figure out what approach works for you.