Research Paper

Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 655-668

First online:

The Genetic Overlap and Distinctiveness of Flourishing and the Big Five Personality Traits

  • Corey L. M. KeyesAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Emory University Email author 
  • , Kenneth S. KendlerAffiliated withThe Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • , John M. MyersAffiliated withThe Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • , Chris C. MartinAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Emory University

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The growing evidence that subjective well-being (SWB) produces an array of beneficial outcomes has increased requests for recommendations on how to promote it. Evidence that all of SWB’s genetic variance overlaps with personality led to the strong claim that it is a ‘personality thing’ and that personality is the strongest predictor of SWB. However, studies do not include a comprehensive assessment that reflects eudaimonic as well as hedonic SWB. We revisit the question of SWB’s complete overlap with personality employing the tripartite model—emotional, psychological, and social—of SWB that, together, reflect Keyes’ (2002) model of flourishing. Data are from the Midlife in the United States national sample of 1,386 twins. Analyses were done using Mx to test Cholesky decomposition models and a two latent factor common pathway model. One-third of the total (72 %) heritability of flourishing and 40 % of its environmental variability are distinct from the big-five personality traits. We also find a low phenotypic association (mean r = .22) between the three dimensions of SWB and big-five personality traits despite substantial shared genetic etiology. In addition to non-trivial amounts of distinctive genetic and environmental variance and low phenotypic correlation, we point to limited investigation of reciprocal causation of SWB and personality. Psychologist should not yet conclude that SWB is a ‘personality thing’ anymore than personality might be a ‘well-being thing’.


Subjective well-being Happiness Flourishing Eudaimonia Personality Big five traits