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

Abstract

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’.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development (MIDMAC Director, Dr. Orville Gilbert Brim).

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Correspondence to Corey L. M. Keyes.

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Keyes, C.L.M., Kendler, K.S., Myers, J.M. et al. The Genetic Overlap and Distinctiveness of Flourishing and the Big Five Personality Traits. J Happiness Stud 16, 655–668 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9527-2

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Keywords

  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Flourishing
  • Eudaimonia
  • Personality
  • Big five traits