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The key to a happy life is emotional stability, study finds

Woman with glasses smiles with her eyes closed as researchers reveal key to happy life. (Getty Images)
The key to a happy life? Emotional stability. (Getty Images)

Ever wondered what the key to happiness is? While some may think it’s money, or having kids, or even landing your dream job, a new study has revealed that the answer is more to do with your state of mind.

Happiness, or a happy life at least, goes hand in hand with emotional stability, a new study from The Netherlands' Tilburg University has found.

Emotional stability was most strongly linked with career, social, and overall life satisfaction, regardless of a person’s age, work, or social situation.

Read more: How to be happy: The numbers that add up to a better life

Despite constant changes in social roles, responsibilities and age during a lifetime, people with strong emotional stability remained satisfied, results showed.

Those who are conscientious are rewarded with greater work satisfaction, and those who are energetic, sociable and agreeable are more satisfied socially.

People who saw increases in these traits across time also reported a rise in their life, social and work satisfaction.

Happy young father holding his little son laughing and having fun during family dinner outdoors in back yard.
Emotional stability was most strongly linked with overall life satisfaction, regardless of a person’s age, work, or social situation. (Getty Images)

Satisfaction with work varied the most by 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,” says Dr Manon van Scheppingen, an assistant professor at Tilburg University and co-author of the study.

“The personality traits remained equally relevant across the adult lifespan, or became even more interconnected in some cases for work satisfaction.”

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To find these results, researchers analysed data from 9,000 Dutch participants ranging from 16 to 95-years-old over the course of 11 years between 2008 and 2019.

Their answers allowed researchers to assess their “Big Five” personality traits. These are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability.

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.

“Emotional stability likely shows a strong link with global and domain-specific satisfaction because this trait colours people’s general view of the world,” fellow co-author Dr Gabriel Olaru said.

Happy black businesswoman smiling while using a smartphone in a creative office. Cheerful female entrepreneur sending a text message while standing next to a glass wall with sticky notes.
Emotionally stable people are 'less scared' to quit unsatisfactory jobs, according to one author from the new study. (Getty Images)

“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. We thus wanted to examine if some personality traits are more or less relevant to life, social and work satisfaction in specific life phases.”

Dr Van Scheppingen added that a “good example” of how people are affected by personalities can be seen when put in a work context.

Read more: UK areas with most improved rates of happiness, anxiety and life satisfaction revealed

“One of our findings was that the link between emotional stability and work satisfaction increases across age,” she said.

“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.”

Dr Van Scheppingen added that the research also found that our personalities are “not set in stone”.

She continued: “Perhaps we may even be able to influence how we change: If we try to become more organised, outgoing, friendly, this might increase life, social or work satisfaction as well.”

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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