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Does being too nice hold you back in life?

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Do nice guys finish last? Time to give it to you straight.

In personality terms, psychologists would describe an extremely nice person like you as being a high scorer in the trait of ‘agreeableness’ – you’re warm, trusting and friendly. Research shows that people like you tend to enjoy high-quality friendships and romantic relationships, and get into fewer arguments.


Unfortunately, though, just as you fear, being nice can be a disadvantage. For instance, research led by the University of Notre Dame in the US found that people rating higher in agreeableness tend to earn less – probably because nicer people are less competitive and are less likely to push for the more high-powered, higher-paid jobs. This correlation is particularly strong in men.

Does being too nice hold you back in life? © Dan Bright
© Dan Bright

Other research suggests that you could be losing out in the dating game, too. At least in the short-term, both men and women are especially sexually attracted to people who exhibit the ‘dark triad’ of personality traits, namely narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Obviously that’s not the full story, though, and altruism is another trait that’s appealing to potential partners – something that nice people have in spades. And while your friendly character might put you at an earning disadvantage, it might draw you to more meaningful work that you find rewarding. For example, a study at Bard College Berlin found that people who work for non-profit organisations are happier in their life and in their career than those in the profit-making sector.

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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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