If someone told you that your neighborhood could impact your happiness, would you believe them? It makes sense, after all. Your commute time to work, your proximity to friends and family, your access to your favorite hobbies are all factors of your surrounding environment that could positively or negatively impact your life. But what if that same person also told you that your personality determines where you live and how happy you are?

Still listening?

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by an international group of psychologists recently took a look at the intersection between personality and happiness. The study, as detailed in CITYLAB, applied the five-factor model of measuring personality traits to different neighborhoods in London. It explores the neighborhood clustering of the five basic personality traits based on the five-factor model: openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability (or lack of neuroticism). For example, the most clustered personality trait was “openness to experience,” which was concentrated in the center of London; while agreeableness and conscientiousness are concentrated in outlying suburban areas. Overall, the study demonstrates that psychological forces shape our neighborhoods as much as social and economic factors.

We wondered what would happen if we applied that same model to the Bay Area. What would our neighborhood map look like based on those five personality traits? And could the key to happiness lie in finding the neighborhood or area best suited to your personality? First, let’s break down the five personalities.

San Francisco: Openness to Experience

“Open to experiences” is characterized by “appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.”

With its entrepreneurial spirit, progressive attitude, and melting pot of cultures and lifestyle choices, San Francisco is the obvious choice. The city is also considered the most liberal place in the country, according to The Economist, further cementing its openness. In San Francisco, you need to be open to all kinds of experiences, including the experience of spending more money for less house.

Silicon Valley: Neuroticism

The “neuroticism” factor is characterized by its tendency to experience emotions “such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability.”

Sound like somewhere you know? Apple Inc., Cisco Systems, eBay, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Salesforce.com, and Yahoo!, as well as thousands of high-tech startups, are all headquartered in the Silicon Valley. Naturally, the area attracts members of the tech workforce looking to live close to work. But the personality of the city, and of many of its inhabitants, comes as little surprise in an area that is inherently focused on high stakes, high tech and high-priced estates like this one in Atherton.

Wine Country: Extraversion

Extraversion signifies energy, positive emotions, sociability, and “the tendency to seek simulation in the company of others.”

Sounds like the beginnings of a good party…and good parties usually have wine!

There are more than 400 wineries in the valleys that comprise the Wine Country. Those who move here often do so for the picturesque setting, the serenity, and the estates. Perhaps all they’re really looking for is a good soiree, or a residence built for entertaining.

Berkeley/East Bay: Conscientiousness

Caring, committed, dependable, high-achieving. That’s the conscientiousness factor.

Cause-heavy Berkeley fits the bill, as does Oakland, largely comprised of San Franciscans who crossed the bridge for a similar lifestyle at a lower cost and fell in love with all the East Bay has to offer. Here, a major transportation hub meets urban sprawl meets a vibrant arts and cultural center. And don’t forget environmentally thoughtful homes.

Lake Tahoe: Agreeableness

Compassion and cooperation are the hallmarks of “agreeableness,” and there is perhaps no place more agreeable than the Lake Tahoe area where recreation, relaxation, and an overriding sense of community combine in a stunning natural setting. While Tahoe isn’t technically in the Bay Area, visitors from the Bay Area travel north as often as possible to enjoy Tahoe’s year-round playground and many SF Bay residents keep second homes in lake communities like Truckee, Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe. After all, a few nights in a mountain estate might just be able to turn the staunchest neurotic into an agreeable ally.


What do you think? Which one of these personalities makes you feel right at home? And could finding the neighborhood or area that best suits your personality lead to happiness?