Recently, I listened to the audiobook Why You Are Who You Are by Mark Leary with my girlfriend. It’s a lecture series about the roots of human personality, covering things like personality differences between people, where the differences come from (spoiler: it’s the usual mix of nature and nurture), and how they alter our lives.
Although the book could have been better, there were some insights. In particular, Leary described how happiness is in large part a personality. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense. And like other personality traits, it’s partly genetic. Apparently, 30–50 percent of the variability in happiness across people is due to personality differences rather than the objective quality of their lives.
The book used the terms positive and negative affectivity for happiness and unhappiness, and explained that (1) they’re not opposites (e.g., you can rank high on both), and (2) they’re better thought of with the additional variables of frequency and intensity. Also related, there really are lovers and haters, who are dispositionally inclined that way toward any number of unrelated things and activities. Unsurprisingly, these traits correlate with openness to new experiences and ideas.
If I had to guess where I land on the bell curves for each of these, I’d say that I’m average for frequency of happiness and unhappiness, a little below average for intensity of happiness, lower than that for intensity of unhappiness, and high on openness. Although I might adjust these if I could, I’m grateful for where I land. It doesn’t sound fun at all to be generally inclined toward unhappiness and disliking things.
I had a meaningful realization in the process of writing this. I’ve long thought of myself as pretty mellow/chill, without a lot of high highs or low lows. I seem to move past negative emotions and experiences faster than most, which is something I’ve tied to my aphantasia ever since I learned about it. I definitely haven’t thought of myself as an unhappy person. But now I see that this was colored by thinking of happiness and unhappiness as opposites rather than orthogonal. So I had to rewrite my first draft of this. It used to claim I’m “higher than average on happiness.” My updated version above nearly reverses this, acknowledging that I’m likely lower than average on intensity of happiness. That change felt like a meaningful discovery, and a success story for why writing a blog filled with introspection might be worth the effort. Listening to the audiobook got me started on self-examination, but it was in fact the process of writing about it here that made me realize I’d been wrong about myself.
This was originally written as a section in my post on aphantasia and hyperphantasia, and was moved here.