Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Personality and Happiness

Written by: on April 16, 2023

What can truly make us happy or what is the connection between personality and happiness? These were some of the thoughts as I read, Personality: What Make You the Way You Are by Daniel Nettle. Interestedly, Nettle had the same idea, as he also wrote a book on happiness[1], concluding that happiness is the evolutionary condition that keeps us motivated to achieve the next goal[2]. The central question that came to mind as I read Nettle’s book on personality is, how would each personality type define happiness? 

Five Factor Model 

There is certainly no shortage of interest in personality typing and those who want to better understand themselves and others. It is a rightly placed interest as personality can be evidenced in the behaviors and decision making in broad and narrow instances. The interesting and unique contribution that Nettle offers is an understanding of the usefulness and unifying approach of the five-factor model of personality. Nettle defines the five factors as: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Openness[3]. While each person has some measure of all five traits, some are more pronounced than others[4], much like the way that fractals exhibit the same pattern in large or small ways[5]. 

More Desirable Trait

Which leads me to wonder if certain personality traits are more desirable? Often this seems to be the case, particularly with traits towards high extraversion and sociability[6]. This is important to consider when it comes to questions about happiness. One might assume that they would be more happy if they possessed a greater degree of extraversion, after all, “Extroverts are supposed to be ambitious, go-getting and in the broadest sense, lusty…”[7]. Nettle points out that the reason that people desire certain traits is due to the incentives tied to them. He observes that there are two incentives, unconditional (naturally rewarding) and conditioned (developed rewards)[8]. This is what drives the desire for certain traits that rewarded, particularity in conditioned ways[9].  Nettle even observes that one such conditional reward is social status which “anchors both the Protestant work ethic and the excess of consumerism”[10]. Further, no personality trait should be favored as each has usefulness in different context and situations[11]. 

Agreeableness and Happiness

While no personality trait should be favored, I am particularly drawn to the nature of Agreeableness as it is understood by the ‘theory of the mind” mechanism of human interaction. The theory of mind is expressed by ones ability to represent the mental and emotional state of another person, commonly expressed in the notion of empathy[12]. The higher a person’s emphatic response, the higher one is rated in Agreeableness as a personality trait. Given that a high degree of Agreeableness would mean stranger social connection, then a person should be happy due to the level of social connection resulting from a high degree of understanding. However, Nettle considers this question in terms of Agreeableness being “good” and concluded that, in fact, those with a high score of Agreeableness actually resulted in less success in the work environment[13]. Which, considering the propensity toward conditioned rewards, would mean that a person high in Agreeableness as less happy. Fascinatingly, Nettle recognizes the tension between those people want to be around (high Agreeableness) and those who are more successful (low Agreeableness) and how women are more like caught in this tension, and concludes “it is a real issue”[14]. 


How would each personality type define happiness? Each would define it based on the degree in which their personality is expressed in their traits. Although one thing seems to be clear, regardless of how a personality trait is expressed, one cannot express happiness through conditioned responses outside of the person. Happiness is best expressed in understanding the unique strengths of each personality traits and managing the underlying deficiencies of each, yet even that does not seem to truly capture the nature of happiness and the complexity of personality traits. 

‌1. Nettle, Daniel. Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

2. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/book_review_happiness

3. Nettle, Daniel. Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, 29. 

4. Ibid., 20. 

5. Ibid., 7. 

6. Ibid., 82. 

7. Ibid., 81. 

8. Ibid., 86. 

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid. 

11. Ibid., 102-103. 

12. Ibid., 158-162. 

13. Ibid., 178. 

14. Ibid 179. 

About the Author


Chad McSwain

Chad is a systematic creative serving in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years, Chad is a professional question-asker and white-board enthusiast, who enjoys helping people discover their own passions and purpose. A life-long learner, he has a B.A, Philosophy - Univ. Central Oklahoma, M.A Theology - Fuller Seminary, M.Div. Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is pursuing a Doctor of Leadership - George Fox University. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as Lead Pastor of Whitesboro UMC. Chad and his wife, Brandi live in Prosper, Texas along with their three children, two pugs and a chameleon.

6 responses to “Personality and Happiness”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    I like this. I like it a lot.
    I appreciate what you gleaned from Nettles work. I was less of a fan. But your summary gives me another reason to take a look at Nettles work.
    I like your focus on happiness and how certain traits may or may not lend to being happier people (experiencing happiness).
    I have a book that you m ight like on this topic. I will take a picture and send it over the phone.
    Which personality trait are you? do you think?

  2. Chad,
    I really enjoyed your post and especially your questions you presented to help have deeper understanding on this matter. Thank you for leading us through the process. Well done!

  3. Chad,

    I appreciate how you used the Personality book and the Happiness book together. This is such a great connection as when we are seeking to understand our personality is it happiness that we are also seeking? I really connected with your comment, “Happiness is best expressed in understanding the unique strengths of each personality traits and managing the underlying deficiencies of each,”

  4. Chad – I did not realize that Nettle also wrote a book on Happiness. I’m excited to check that out. Thanks for including it in your blog.

  5. Alana Hayes says:

    How can you have agreeableness and boundaries? AKA How can you have agreeableness and not let people run over you?

  6. mm Becca Hald says:

    Chad, great post. Your analysis of the various traits and happiness reminded me of reading “The Cultural Map” last semester. How do you think these personality traits would vary across different cultures?

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