FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- People who were outgoing and
energetic as young adults seem to be happier with their lives by
the time they hit retirement age, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that for nearly 4,600 British adults followed
for decades, those who were "extraverts" in their youth gave higher
ratings to their well-being and satisfaction with life once they'd
reached their early 60s.
The same was true of people who were more emotionally stable --
less "neurotic" -- in their teens and 20s.
The findings, reported online recently in the
Journal of Research in Personality, don't prove that an
outgoing nature is the reason for people's happiness. And they
definitely do not mean that shy folks are doomed to a miserable
life, stressed lead researcher Catharine Gale, an epidemiologist
with the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
"How likely people are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives is in part affected by their personality, but that is far from being the only influence," Gale said.
Trying to attribute something as broad as "happiness" or "life
satisfaction" to a particular personality trait is tricky,
according to John Zelenski, a psychologist at Carleton University
in Ottawa, Canada, who studies the subject.
But, he said, personality can be seen as a composition of a few
"core" traits that contain "smaller traits" within them.
Extraverted types tend not only to be friendly, but cheerful,
assertive, adaptable and open to trying new things, for
So it makes sense, according to Zelenski, that extraverted
people would give higher ratings on well-being scales asking things
such as, "I've been feeling interested in other people," and "I
feel optimistic about the future."
It also makes sense that extraverted teens would be similar
"Traits like extraversion and neuroticism tend to have considerable stability over the life span," Zelenski said. "It follows that the 'happy extraverts' early in life are likely to be many of the same people later in life."
Still, he agreed that a personality trait would be only one
factor in long-term life satisfaction.
The current findings are based on 4,583 people aged 60 to 64 who
were part of a long-term U.K. health study. At the ages of 16 and
26, the participants had completed standard measures of
"extraversion" and "neuroticism" -- a tendency to be anxious, moody
and lower in self-esteem.
In general, older adults who had been more extraverted in youth
gave higher ratings to their current well-being and life
satisfaction. That link held even when the researchers factored in
people's physical or mental health conditions and their occupations
at age 53 -- which was used as an indicator of their socioeconomic
But that was just the general pattern, Gale said. And
personality seemed to account for only a fraction of older adults'
"There was still a lot of variation in well-being and life satisfaction that wasn't explained by personality in youth, or by the other factors we examined -- adult social class, or physical and mental health problems in mid-life," Gale said.
She added that she does not think people should feel compelled
to alter their personalities, even if they could. "I think it is
probably better to aim to do things that make one feel happy and
fulfilled," Gale said.
Zelenski agreed that personality traits seem to be pretty steady
-- and that, of course, shy bookworms can be as, or more, satisfied
with life as the person who appears to be the life of the
But, he said, his and other researchers' work suggests that
introverts might benefit from being a little more outgoing. In
experiments where Zelenski's team put people in social situations
and asked some to "act" outgoing, assertive or bold, they've found
that it temporarily boosts people's moods -- even if they are
They also looked at whether there is a "cost" of acting outgoing
when your nature is to be quiet. "Do you feel stressed, or do you
feel worn out?" Zelenski said. "We found no evidence of that."
However, he cautioned, the research looked only at the temporary
effects of acting extraverted. No one knows if doing that
repeatedly would ultimately make for a happier life.
Still, Zelenski -- who described himself as somewhat introverted
-- said, "My advice to a shy person would be to try pushing
yourself a little. Strike up a little conversation with that person
with you in the elevator. It's possible that small moments of
more-positive emotions could add up."
And maybe go to that party you fear will be a waste of time. "I
think," Zelenski said, "we introverts often find out that things
are more fun than we thought they'd be."
The American Psychological Association has more on
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