Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve taken a personality, career aptitude, or relationship test to learn more about yourself.
The quest to find out what makes human beings tick is as universal as the desire to understand why.
What makes some people behave, think, and feel certain ways and not others.
Why do humans engage in habitual patterns, even when those could be to their detriment.
The answer may lie in the Big Five personality traits, a theory that dissects the human psyche into five broad characteristics.
These five simple factors could determine the very complex question you’ve been chasing: what makes you you.s a theory that dates back to:
Even though the Myer-Briggs test is one you’re more likely to have heard of, the Big Five model is the most widely accepted personality theory in the scientific community today.
Instead of evaluating you as a whole, this is one of the first personality theories to break you down into five traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
While many personality theories place you on either side of a binary—they say you’re either an extrovert or an introvert—the Big Five model presents a spectrum between these five qualities and their opposites.
These opposites are closed to experience, spontaneous, introversion, disagreeableness, and stability, respectively.
You may have heard of these before.
Terms like introvert and extrovert are thrown around a lot these days, but what do they really mean.
They’re two ends of the spectrum.
Each trait has two extremes, and although we may not want to admit it, every one of us embodies all of these five traits to some degree.
According to this theory, it’s how much of each and where we land in the range between the extremes that determine our unique personality.
Let’s break it down.
In thinking about our own quest for self-knowledge, we can become more familiar with personality theories like this one as a way to better understand humans in general, and ourselves relative to them.
It’s a little like imagining a person as a unique recipe composed of varying quantities of certain ingredients.
The presence of the ingredients is the same for all human beings, but how much of each characteristic you possess as an individual can say a lot about you.
As you read about these “personality ingredients,” try to see how much of each is in your own makeup, and what insights you can gain from thinking about yourself this way.
The first of the Big Five personality traits determines how willing you are to take risks or try something new.
Would you ever jump out of a plane.
How about pack up and move halfway around the world to immerse yourself in a new culture.
If your answer to both of those questions was a resounding yes, then you probably score high in your openness to experience.
That is, you seek out the unknown.
At one extreme, people who are high in openness are curious and imaginative.
They go in search of new adventures and experiences.
They can get bored easily and turn to their creativity to uncover new interests and even daring activities.
These people are flexible and seek out variety in their daily life.
For them, routine is not an option.
At the other end of the spectrum, people who are low on the openness scale prefer continuity and stability to change.
They are practical, sensible, and more conventional than their peers.
Change is not their friend.
In the real world, most people fall somewhere in between these opposites, but where you find yourself on the spectrum could reveal a lot about who you are and what you excel at.
Do you dream of being a CEO or at the head of your field, for instance.
Openness has been linked to leadership.succeed as a leader (Lebowit,: audit a calligraphy class in:
At the time, no one associated computers with beautiful fonts, but Jobs saw something that no one else could.
He embraced the calligraphy class, sought to change the way people thought about computers, and opened himself up to a new vision of the future.eople (Douglas, Bore & Munro,:
They choose peace and tolerance over conflict and discrimination.
They see all people as similarly deserving of justice and equality.
And they may pursue careers that lead them to fight for their ideals.
A quick look back over your life may reveal just how open to experience you are and how much of this trait you possess.
Think of the time you were with your friends and one of them suggested doing something completely crazy and out of the box.
What was your reaction.
Was it hesitation or excitement.
If it was the latter, you are leaning toward openness rather than the opposite.
Idealism, creativity, and thirst for new experiences can take you far in life, but how hard you’re willing to work for your goals is another determinant of your success.
That’s where the second Big Five comes in: conscientiousness.
This is the personality trait that makes you careful and cautious.
You’re vigilant in your actions and often think twice, or three times, before making a decision, especially if it wasn’t in your original plans.
People who have high levels of conscientiousness tend to be extremely focused on their goals.
They plan things out, focusing on the detailed tasks at hand, and they stick to their schedules.
They have better control over their impulses, emotions, and behaviors, such that they are able to focus more of their energy on their professional success.
While they may not live as adventurously as their peers, they do tend to live longer, thanks in part to their healthier habits.
At the other end of the spectrum, people who are not so conscientious tend to be more impulsive and disorganized.
They become demotivated by too much structure, can procrastinate on important work, and have a weaker ability to control their behavior.
This can lead to more self-destructive habits, such as smoking and substance abuse, and an overall inability to get things done.
Impulse control is no easy feat for them.
So how conscientious are you.
Do you like schedules at work but still find yourself avoiding exercise when you get home.
You may embrace some aspects of conscientiousness, like schedules and to-do lists, and not others, like exercising or performing other healthy habits.
Most people land somewhere in the middle of the conscientiousness spectrum, but if you can find ways to embrace planning and order a little bit more, you could be setting yourself up for success.Patterson, Koczwara & Sofat,: study by Soldz and Vaillant (:
Say, just as you’re leaving the office for the day, a colleague comes with another task that he needs urgently.
How would you react.
If you decide to stay a few more minutes, complete the task, and take your delay in stride, you likely rank higher on the conscientious scale.
But if you are already overwhelmed with work as it is and don’t see how you can get it done, you may fall toward the other extreme.
Conscientiousness is the preventative medicine we could all use to stop problems before they start.
However, too much conscientiousness can also be a bad thing.
Such people can easily become overly rigid and dull to be around.
They can also be prone to burnout due to the value they place on working hard.
Still, conscientiousness is a highly desirable trait overall, one we should all attempt to inculcate in ourselves.
When problems do arise, enthusiasm and optimism are two characteristics that can help carry you through, and that’s where extroversion comes in—the third of the Big Five traits.
This is the trait that defines how outgoing or social you are.
Extroverts are easy to spot.
They’re the life of the party, they’ve got lots of energy, and they know how to talk.
Extroverts draw their energy from being around other people, and thrive on being the center of attention.
For that reason, they maintain a wide circle of friends and take every opportunity to meet new people.
At the other extreme are people who often find extroverts exhausting to be around: introverts.
Why spend time trying to make conversation with large groups of people when you can be at home with your own thoughts.
Introverts aren’t shy; they simply prefer solitude to socializing or calm to chaos.
Do you wish office parties would never end, or do you feel drained after about an hour.
Do you enjoy meeting new people, or would you prefer to be cuddled up at home with a good book.
Are you a morning person, or do you truly wake up when the sun goes down.
If you’re often the last one to leave a social gathering, you enjoy being around people, and you thrive on the late-night hours, you likely rank high on the extroversion scale.
If, on the other hand, you dread the thought of going to parties, would rather stay home alone, and prefer to wake up bright and early to start your day, you’re probably more of an introvert.
Depending on the day, you may be inclined to go either way.
However, by and large, people typically place somewhere along the spectrum between the two.be a leader (Barrick & Mount,:
Think about it: if you’re comfortable being around people, they’re more likely to be comfortable around you.
If you like starting conversations, you could find yourself with a wider social network in which to mobilize.
And if you’re more assertive, people might be more prone to believe in you.
Moreover, because extroverts thrive on social approval, they are more likely to work hard in order to improve their standing among peers.
These are all the makings of a successful leader.
That’s not to say that introverts can’t lead.
It may just require taking a few more steps outside of their comfort zone.
However, it’s often the case that introverts are simply not interested in being leaders.
Introverts do not prioritize status or social approval, and more than happy when others take the rein.
For them, it’s a waste of energy that could be much better utilized in their own personal endeavors.
When you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, it never hurts to have a helping hand or someone to encourage you along the way.
These kinds of people rank high on the agreeableness scale—the fourth of the Big Five personality traits.
This is the trait that identifies how kind and sympathetic you are and how warm and cooperative you are with others.
Do you tend to take a big interest in other people and their problems.
When you see others going through difficulties, does it affect you, too.
If you’re empathetic and caring toward others and driven by the desire to help, you may be quite an agreeable person.
You feel their pain and are driven to do something about it.
At the other end of the spectrum, people who are less agreeable may find they take less of an interest in other people’s lives.
Instead of trying to work together to solve a problem, they may be more content to go it alone.
Because of their nature, they may often be perceived as offensive or unpleasant to be around.
We all have different thresholds for how much we’re willing to do for others and how much we’re willing to work together.
That limit is where you rank on the agreeableness spectrum.
Why people are so agreeable is still up for debate.
For some, it’s the genuine concern for the well-being of others.
For others, it’s the result of social pressure and accepted norms.
Fear of consequences can be a motivating factor.
Some agreeable people may be acting that way because they are petrified of social confrontation.cas, Sagiv, Schwartz & Knafo,:
However, this also means that agreeable people generally do worse when it comes to their careers.
This is easy to see.
For example, an agreeable person is much less likely to take up the issue of low pay, whereas a disagreeable person will probably tell their boss they deserve more.
If you’re looking for ways to be a little bit happier, figuring out where you lie on the agreeable index may be a good way to start.
It’s easy to stereotype disagreeable people as simply selfish and unempathetic, but things aren’t that simple.
While it is true that disagreeable people are more likely to be that way, the thing that makes them so is their reduced sensitivity to conflict, not an innate lack of feelings.
These are the people who are unafraid to hold unpopular views, who will give you a piece of their mind if they feel you deserve it, and aren’t always swayed by appeals to emotions.
You might believe that it’s simply “nicer” to be agreeable, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
Agreeable people are generally perceived more favorably by others, but this comes at the cost of being unable to assert their own needs.
This doesn’t just impact their professional lives in the form of lower pay, lower titles, and lower status.
It pervades other aspects of life such as relationships too.
Disagreeable people might prioritize their own interests above others, but this does not automatically make them less nice.
We all have those days when nothing is how it seems.
You think your coworkers are out to get you.
You’re so anxious you can’t sleep.
You feel like you’re caught in a Woody Allen film.
But if you find yourself having lots of those days, to the point where you feel more down than you do up, you may have high levels of the last of the Big Five traits: neuroticism.
This is the personality trait that essentially measures how emotionally stable you are.
It identifies your ability to remain steady and balanced versus anxious, insecure, or depressed.
Neurotics tend to approach life with a high dose of anxiety.
They worry more than most, and their moods can shift quickly and with little prompting.
This kind of behavior can make them prone to being stressed or even depressed.
Those on the less neurotic side of the spectrum tend to be more emotionally stable.
When stress comes their way, they have an easier time dealing with it.
Bouts of sadness are few and far between, and they see fewer reasons to stress about whatever may come their way.
For some, this can be a virtual superpower.
Even major stressors like losing a job, getting a divorce, etc., aren’t likely to phase stable people too much.
However, being too low in neuroticism may also lead to underestimating harms in different situations and being overly optimistic even when it isn’t warranted.
Do you find yourself using humor to cope with a challenge, or do problems tend to stress you out.
Are you pretty levelheaded all day long, or do you switch from hot to cold in a heartbeat.
If you take things in stride and usually only have one mood per day, you’re probably less neurotic than others.
But if you have many moods in the space of a short amount of time and are anxious more often than not, you’re probably on the more neurotic side.
We all fall somewhere along this spectrum, but how you answer these questions is a good indication of which way you lean.you motivated (Judge & Ilies,:
Setting goals for yourself and sticking to them can be a challenge.
However, being neurotic doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.
After all, worrying about our health is what keeps us taking vitamins and visiting the doctor’s office for checkups.
Neurotics are less likely to ignore the dangers or pitfalls with every decision, ensuring that they have more realistic outlooks on things.
In that case, neurotics may actually be one step ahead.
If the human psyche has been narrowed down to five key components, does it follow that there’s a winning formula.
Is there an ideal combination of traits that every human being should possess to be truly happy.
It certainly appears that some traits do make you happier than others.
Some traits may even make you live longer.
But personality is complex, and new scientific discoveries continue to emerge that often challenge preexisting views.
Personality can also change over time, so the extent to which people can optimize themselves and cultivate the ideal combination of traits—if it exists—may be limited.
But if you’re willing to try, here are some hacks that may help.
Don’t Want to Be Sick.
Try Being More Extroverted.
As a child, did you love to get dirty.
Did you get mud all over yourself without any thought to germs—or who was going to do the laundry.
Don’t tell your own kids or you could be stuck washing clothes for the next three weeks, but you may have actually been on to something.
As it turns out, some germs are good for you, and the more you’re exposed to them, the more your body gets used to dealing with them.
According to a study led by Professor Kavita Vedhara, extroverts were linked to an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes, while people ranking high in conscientiousness were associated with a lower expression of these genes.
In other words, people ranking higher on the extrovert scale were biologically less susceptible to disease.
That’s where being more extroverted can help you.
The more people you see, the more you’re exposed to a bigger network of germs and possible infections, and the more your body learns to cope.
While practicing good hygiene is important, some bacteria can actually toughen up our bodies to diseases.
On the other hand, the more time you spend alone, the less prepared your body is to battle new germs once they come.
Being too clean could actually hurt you.
The size of your circle of friends, therefore, could actually be a good indicator of the strength of your immune system.
So if you want to be sick less often, try being more extroverted.
That means trying to be more comfortable around others and opening yourself up to greater social opportunities.
Think of people as germs—you need exposure to some if you’re going to stay healthy.
You can start by practicing short conversations with strangers.
Next time you visit your local coffee shop, ask your server how their day is going.
When you take a taxi, ask your cab driver if it’s been a busy night.
The more you practice starting conversations, the more natural it will feel and the easier it will become.
Once you’ve got the gift of the gab, go out and use it.
Say yes to dinner invitations you would normally refuse, or invite your friends over to your house more often.
Stay off your cell phone in public and see if there’s an opportunity to meet someone while you’re on the street or waiting for the bus.
Sign up for your local Toastmasters club and practice public speaking with other people who also want to improve.
It can be nerve-racking at first to step outside your comfort zone.
But if you take baby steps, set yourself incremental goals, and accept any failures as lessons on the path to success, you could be setting yourself up for a more extroverted—and healthier—future in no time.
Want to Live Longer.
Be More Conscientious.
When you go on vacation, are you the type to fly by the seat of your pants and book nothing but the plane ticket there.
Or do you prefer to know where you’re staying, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll be doing every day thereafter until you return home.
If you’re the former, you may be seeking out more excitement in the short term but, in reality, cutting back your adventure in the end.
That’s because people who are more conscientious—that is, they are more organized and prefer planning over spontaneity—are actually known to live longer.inal study by Joshua Jackson (:
That’s because people high in this trait were more organized, self-disciplined, and prepared.
They did fewer things that were spontaneous and more things that were safer.
Conscientiousness, therefore, helped them reach riper old ages.
So it turns out that safety pays off.
On top of being more organized, high-conscientious people are more self-disciplined and dependable.
Even when they dream of taking risks, they convince themselves that it’s not in their best interests They stick to their plans and, as a result, do fewer potentially life-threatening things.
If you want to live longer, you could try to be more conscientious.
First, get organized about your tasks and your priorities.
These days, there are lots of apps that can help you manage your time.
Once you know what needs to be done, you can train yourself to better focus on achieving it.
Try meditating for even ten minutes a day.
You may find that, over time, you’re distracted less and concentrating more on the tasks at hand.
Finally, remember that you don’t need to go cold turkey.
One step at a time, you may find yourself living a more mindful, determined, and possibly even longer life.
Want a Healthier Heart.
Be More Agreeable.
When you’re in a good mood, how do you—your body, that is—feel.
Does it feel light and energetic, or does it feel heavy and tired.
The odds are that when you’re in a good mood, so is your body.
As it turns out, the saying that good things happen to good people might actually be true.
People who rank high on the agreeableness scale—that is, they’re friendly, more compassionate, and looking to get along with everyone—do in fact have healthier hearts versus their more pessimistic peers.
What’s the science behind it.According to Bibbey (:
The more relaxed and optimistic you are, and the more you’re able to take things in stride, the less stress there is on your heart.
That means a healthier heart will keep beating longer.
Being more agreeable, therefore, means that your heart is in a much better state.
Now, there are several steps you can take to be more agreeable.
First, when you wake up in the morning, tell yourself that you’re going to be agreeable with every single person you talk to that day.
Go out of your way to be nice to people and to actively listen to them.
Second, try getting involved in volunteer work.
Spend some time at your local charity.
Seeing those less fortunate than us can bring a better perspective on our own lives.
Finally, practice the art of compromise.
If you’re adamant about something going your way, you may be alienating everyone else who’s involved.
But if you’re willing to show understanding and put the interest of others above your own, you may just be building a more solid social network to support you down the road.
It may seem hard, but being more agreeable is really just about being more empathetic and less combative with the people you come across.
Trying to bring a little more pleasantness, decency, and humbleness to your demeanor can work wonders not only on your social life, but also on your health.
Want to be Happier.
Be More Open to Experience.
The last time you tried something new, how did you feel.
Maybe it was eating sushi for the first time or taking a dance class.
Chances are, even if you didn’t like it, you were proud of yourself for taking that step.
As it turns out, it may be worth taking a few more of those steps.
People who are more open to experience might just be happier overall.
What’s the reason.
Open people are by nature more curious.
Sensitive to beauty, they have a deeper appreciation for art.
They’re also more in tune with their emotions, and they think and act in ways that may not necessarily conform to society.
All of that is to say that they seek out things that make them happy.
At the end of the day, trying new things is good for us.
But being open to experience doesn’t have to mean jumping out of planes.
There are several ways you can discover new things that don’t put your life at risk.
First, recognize where your comfort zone is and then step outside of it.
Do you like exercising but are afraid of going to the gym.
Try a low-key yoga class to get started.
Second, don’t worry about what the world around you will think.
Have you always wanted to try online dating but were too afraid.
Just think, everyone else you’ll meet is doing the exact same thing.
Finally, remember that life is short.
You may wind up regretting all the things you never tried when it’s too late to start.
Being more open to experience can bring you more of the things you’ve always wanted—and happiness along the way.
Want to Be More in Control.
Try Being a Little Less Neurotic.
When was the last time you second-guessed yourself.
That never-ending cycle of doubt, wondering if you made the right choice, was likely worse punishment than either choice you could have made.
Neuroticism can lead people to do many things, but at the heart of it is the inability to control your thoughts and emotions.
Being a little less neurotic may just give you a little more control over yourself, your actions, and, in the end, your overall well-being.
Neurotic people are intense, emotionally speaking.
They respond to things in ways that most people wouldn’t.
They’re prone to seeing the challenge, the hopelessness, and the threat that lies in everyday situations.
Their negative reactions can go on for longer than others, leaving them in frequent bad moods.
Neurotic people can be prone to vulnerability, leaving them panicked, confused, and helpless under stress.
They can suffer intense anxiety and live with a constant fear of something dangerous happening.
And they can be sensitive to the perceived judgments of others, leaving them shy, uncomfortable, and even ashamed.
When they’re in that state, it can be hard to think clearly, to know what to do, and to handle the situation effectively.
That can be a challenging and very likely unhealthy way to live.
On the other hand, if you’re able to maintain your calm, poise, and confidence when you’re stressed, you become less vulnerable to outside stress.
You’re less anxious about what may happen next, and you’re able to embrace the unknown instead of fear it.
You’re also not worried about other people watching or judging you.
So how do you become less neurotic.
It may sound grim, but start by reflecting on your own mortality.
Once you realize you won’t be around forever—and neither will anyone else—you can start to chip away at your neuroses and focus on enjoying the moment.
Next, work out.
Exercise can release chemicals in the brain that boost your mood and can go a long way to helping you deal with any anxiety.
Finally, recognize your triggers and try to avoid them.
If the same person or situations are always making you anxious or stressed, the easiest solution is to avoid them.
Find people and places that help you relax.
Being a little neurotic can be a good thing.
But if you find you’re not as in control of your emotions as you’d like, challenging your neuroses could lead you to a better, more relaxed state of mind.
All of the above may make it seem pretty simple to just alter aspects of our personality, as though we were fine-tuning a dial up or down.
Naturally, the Big Five traits are the broadest categories we can draw for human behavior—they don’t tell us how those traits interact, how they come together to form a unique whole, or how they change with time.
Whether you find the Big Five personality trait model useful or not, it can be illuminating to think about your personality in terms of separate quantities.
In other words, one way to answer the question of who you are is to answer the question, what are you made of.
This model is also useful because it can shape your attempts to improve.
For example, you might take a look at your strong introversion and realize that it’s the reason you’re unhappy at your job.
Or you might realize that you are far more open to experience than you give yourself credit for, and that maybe it’s time to appreciate and develop this side of yourself more.