TILBURG, Netherlands — Do your prioritize your mental health every day? If not, perhaps you should. New research suggests the key to a happy life is emotional stability.
Researchers from Tilburg University conclude that emotional stability is most strongly linked with career, social and overall life satisfaction regardless of age, work or social situation. The findings provide good reason to eliminate stigmas surrounding mental health, such as seeing a therapist or practicing mindfulness meditation regularly.
Despite constant changes in social roles, responsibilities and age during a lifetime, people who exhibited the strongest levels of mental health remained most satisfied in life. Moreover, individuals who were conscientious also had greater work satisfaction, while those who were energetic, sociable and agreeable were more satisfied socially. The study shows that when these traits increased over time, so too did their overall life, social and work satisfaction.
Interestingly, satisfaction with work was the most affected by differences in age. As participants in the study aged, the relationship between career satisfaction and emotional stability grew moderately stronger.
“Our findings show that – despite differences in life challenges and social roles – personality traits are relevant for our satisfaction with life, work and social contacts across young, middle and older adulthood,” explains study co-author Dr. Manon van Scheppingen, an assistant professor at the university, in a statement. “The personality traits remained equally relevant across the adult lifespan, or became even more interconnected in some cases for work satisfaction.”
“Many studies have shown that people with certain personality profiles are more satisfied with their life than others. Yet, it had not been extensively studied whether this holds true across the lifespan. For example, extraverted – that is sociable, talkative – people might be particularly happy in young adulthood, when they typically are forming new social relationships,” adds co-author Dr. Gabriel Olaru, also an assistant professor at Tilburg. “We thus wanted to examine if some personality traits are more or less relevant to life, social and work satisfaction in specific life phases.”
Connecting the dots between emotional stability and life satisfaction
To determine how the relationship between personality traits and life satisfaction changes over time, researchers analyzed data collected from 2008 to 2019. They took the data from a nationally representative survey of households in the Netherlands. Over 11 years, just over 9,000 Dutch participants ranging from 16- to 95-years-old answered multiple questionnaires.
Their answers allowed researchers to assess their Big Five personality traits. These are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, which refers to how energetic and sociable people are, agreeableness and emotional stability. They were also asked about their satisfaction with their social connections and their life overall.
The 5,928 participants who were employed at the time also answered questions about their satisfaction with their work lives.
Researchers say that most of the relationships between personality traits and satisfaction remained the same across their adult life. While emotional stability was the trait most strongly linked with people’s satisfaction, other personal attributes did contribute. And despite a weaker correlation between openness and life satisfaction overall, the researchers found that people who became more open had a greater life satisfaction across the 11 years.
“A good example of how personality interacts with the environment can be found in the work context,” says Dr. Van Scheppingen. “One of our findings was that the link between emotional stability and work satisfaction increases across age. This might be explained by the fact that emotionally stable people are less scared to quit unsatisfactory jobs and more likely to apply for jobs that are more challenging and perhaps more fulfilling and enjoyable in the long run.”
Adds Dr. Olaru: “Emotional stability likely shows a strong link with global and domain-specific satisfaction because this trait colors people’s general view of the world.”
The researchers hope that future studies explore how the factors that change with age, such as income, employment status, marital status and health, affect the relationship between personality traits and overall satisfaction with life.
“While we did not examine what caused these changes, [the research] shows that our personalities and our happiness are not set in stone,” says Dr. Van Scheppingen. “Perhaps we may even be able to influence how we change: If we try to become more organized, outgoing, friendly, this might increase life, social or work satisfaction as well.”
South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.