Not well? Change your personality.


The Five Personality Traits Most associated with Wellbeing

Photo by  Rosan Harmens  on  Unsplash

I gained 18 pounds in six weeks last summer. What's your superpower?

There's nothing inherently wrong with weight gain, but it wasn't my goal. I'd actually been gluten- and dairy-free for four of those weeks. And in ketosis for the other two (I even peed on the strip for safe measure). But my body was like, "Nahhh...we good."

The result? My body felt foreign to me. I no longer knew how it moved, its strength, what fueled it, or what it needed to heal. Anyone who shares my autoimmune hypothyroid issues knows the struggle is real when it comes to weight gain/loss. But this sudden surge was more aggressive and perplexing than anything I'd previously experienced. My doctor said it was the likely side effect of two consecutive nights of steroid injections (thanks, toxic mold exposure). I later learned I was also in Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue...and that putting my body in ketosis was one of the worst things I could've done at the time. Derp.

I reached peak frustration, which set in motion a cascade of measures to feel better: cryotherapy, infrared sauna therapy, quantum neuro reset therapy, rapid transformational therapy, psychotherapy, a Whole30 challenge...still with me?

Physically, emotionally, and financially drained, I wondered, "What does it mean to live well?"

I've spent ~12 years working in lifestyles of health and sustainability, and I'm amazed at the continued growth of the $3.7 trillion wellness industry. As an innovation and growth consultant to wellness startups and brands, I'm a huge advocate of creating better ways to live. Increasingly, though, it's as if wellness is the exclusive domain of people who are already disproportionately well (see GOOP). Just as this industry flourishes, we're seeing growing numbers of people battling chronic disease, food insecurity, poverty, and more...all while the affordability and efficacy of our health care system are in peril. Gross.

As a wellness veteran, my experience last summer was a challenge of ego as much as health outcomes. I asked myself, "Why would people listen to what I have to share when I can't seem to get a handle on my own challenges?"

It's easy to feel dismay in these times (even for a veteran like me). We're in a wellness arms race:

  • New athleisure brands launching every month;

  • Instagram accounts dedicated solely to unicorn smoothies; and

  • Boutique fitness classes charging $30/session.

While the wellness industry serves up gadgets and gizmos to "optimize" our lives, I wanted to explore more accessible and (cost-)conscious pathways to thriving that have very little to do with Yoni eggs (?!), FitBits, HIIT regimens...or a number on a scale. To be clear, I still love Athleta leggings, the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, and Agra Culture. But I sought other pathways to get the "most bang for our buck," in terms of supporting our wellbeing.


On Personality and Wellbeing

When I say wellbeing, I mean more than "high vibe" living or happiness (though those are worth exploring, too). I'm talking about the 12 dimensions that have been systematically examined using the three most prominent models: Subjective Well-BeingPsychological Well-Being, and PERMA.

  1. High Positive emotions (frequency and intensity of positive moods and emotions)

  2. Low negative emotions (frequency and intensity of negative moods and emotions)

  3. Life satisfaction (a positive evaluation of life)

  4. Autonomy (independent and able to resist social pressures)

  5. Environmental mastery (ability to shape environments to suit needs and desires)

  6. Personal growth (continuing to develop, rather than believing in a fixed state)

  7. Positive relations (warm and trusting interpersonal relationships)

  8. Self-acceptance (positive attitudes toward oneself)

  9. Purpose and meaning in life (clear sense of direction and meaning, or a connection to something greater)

  10. Engagement in life (interested and involved in activities and life)

  11. Accomplishment (goal progress and attainment, and feelings of mastery and competence)

  12. Health (physical health and vitality)

I chose to start with a fundamental and free-to-access(!) determinant of our being: personality. I wondered whether certain personality traits are most associated with wellbeing. And I was curious about how we might harness and/or adapt (aspects of) our personalities to realize better outcomes. Here's what the research shows:

  • When it comes to wellbeing, not all personality traits are created equally;

  • Personality isn't fixed—it can be changed to have more positive impact;

  • Five personality traits are independently associated with enhanced wellbeing: enthusiasm, low withdrawal, industriousness, compassion, and intellectual curiosity; and

  • Two additional traits are predictive of certain aspects of wellbeing: assertiveness and creative openness.



Five Personal Paths to Wellbeing

If you're tired of the all the "hustle"-related messages to enhance your wellbeing, then take heart in the five personality-related paths to wellbeing that have nothing to do with WODs or protein shakes.

1. Enthusiasm

Are you friendly, emotionally expressive, and tend to have lots of fun in life? Aside from being great at wedding dances (boom!), this trait produces more life satisfaction and positive emotions (and fewer negative emotions), environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations, self-acceptance, purpose in life, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and achievement.

2. Low Withdrawal

Feel easily discouraged and overwhelmed? Tend to ruminate and be highly self-conscious? This can lead to depression and anxiety. In contrast, lower levels of withdrawal predict greater life satisfaction and positive emotions (and fewer negative emotions). Lower levels of withdrawal also spur greater autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships, self-acceptance, meaning and purpose, relationships, and achievement.

3. Industriousness

Those among us who are achievement-oriented, self-disciplined, efficient, purposeful, and competent enjoy greater life satisfaction and positive emotions (and fewer negative emotions). These same people also have more autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships, self-acceptance, meaning and purpose, engagement, and achievement.

4. Compassion

When you feel and care about others' emotions and wellbeing, you enjoy more positive emotions, and more environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships, self-acceptance, meaning and purpose, engagement, and achievement.

5. Intellectual Curiosity

Consider yourself open to new ideas? If you enjoy thinking deeply and complexly, then you'll have greater autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, self-acceptance, purpose, and accomplishment.


Next Steps

Armed with this knowledge about how certain personality traits can produce greater wellbeing outcomes, I've been squarely confronting the various maladies that reared their ugly heads this past summer (#winning). I'm grateful that I can, in fact, adapt my (ENFP/Enneagram Type 7) personality to realize greater wellbeing outcomes. And that a personality-related approach is inclusive of a broad array of personalities ('cuz I care about you all).

So what might this mean for you? Share below!