About 1 in 25 people in the USA are sociopaths.
For some people, this may sound like a disturbing fact. Every other night, we hear another story on the news about how a sociopath or psychopath has caused unhappiness somewhere. But chances are you know a sociopath and interact with one every week. In fact, sociopathy is a lot more common than you might think. In a world where there are quite a lot of sociopaths, it’s important to understand what “tickles their happiness”. This article takes a closer look at whether or not sociopaths can be happy.
Can sociopaths be happy? In what scenario can a sociopath be happy while a regular person can’t? These questions will be answered today.
- What is a sociopath?
- Are sociopaths happy?
- Closing words
What is a sociopath?
Let’s first start with the basics? What makes a person a sociopath?
According to Wikipedia, any person that’s diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is considered to be a sociopath. ASPD is a “disorder characterized by a long term pattern of disregard for the rights of others”.
What this means is that sociopaths are inclined towards:
- Showing no feelings of guilt or remorse
- Feeling irresponsible towards others, even friends and family
- Disregarding the safety and well-being of others
- Impulsiveness, or the inability to plan ahead
- Irritability and aggressiveness
To be more precise, the World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains an International Statistical Classification of Diseases, which includes a diagnosis of dissocial personality disorder:
It is characterized by at least 3 of the following:
- Callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
- Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations;
- Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;
- Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
- Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
- Marked readiness to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.
The broad definition of a sociopath
When I initially researched this topic, I was surprised. You may be too, as you’re reading this.
The definition of a sociopath is very broad. There’s not a single clear indication of being sociopathic. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we all have shown sociopathic treats at some point in our lives. I mean, who hasn’t ever told a lie?
- Am I a sociopath if I curse at the person in front of me in traffic? (Irritability and aggressiveness)
- Am I a sociopath if I fail to remember my appointments or have overlapping meetings at work? (Inability to plan ahead)
These are not just silly questions. I want you to consider this for a moment.
Are sociopaths necessarily bad people?
Whenever you hear the word “sociopath” on the news, your mind automatically creates an image of a serial killer who’s had a terrible childhood. I know I do, yet it turns out that this stereotypical image of a sociopath is completely wrong.
So the answer is no. Sociopaths are not necessarily bad people. It turns out that sociopaths can be just as well-functioning as every other human being. In fact, about 4% of the population can be considered a sociopath.
What about psychopaths?
According to Wikipedia, the frequency of psychopaths is approximately 0.1%. Unfortunately, there is no universally agreed-upon diagnosis of what psychopathy really is. This particular field of psychology is still heavily researched, as a lot of questions remain unanswered. However, it is commonly agreed that psychopaths show similar treats as sociopaths, only then much worse.
What’s the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths? In my research, I’ve found this statement to explain it best:
Psychopaths lack an understanding of moral rights and wrongs. Sociopaths do understand this, but just don’t always care.
Are sociopaths happy?
Are sociopaths happy and how much do they differ from you and me? Even though a sociopath is less inclined to feel emotions such as regret, remorse, guilt or empathy, this doesn’t mean that they have no possibility to be happy.
When can sociopaths be happier?
In fact, a sociopath can sometimes be happy when others simply can’t, because they don’t have feelings of remorse or guilt.
These particular emotions usually don’t make us feel happy right away. So in theory, the complete lack of these emotions can result in more happiness. However, it’s widely agreed that negative emotions are vital to long-term mental health. If you’re looking for a good read on the importance of negative emotions, this article is quite interesting.
In short, negative emotions exist in order to make us more aware of what we do, so that we can better act in the future. While the correcting nature of these negative emotions may cause us to feel unhappy momentarily, they will teach us how to better cope in the future.
Here’s an example: I once drove my car through a puddle of water at a high speed, causing the water to splash over an innocent pedestrian. The result? The man’s shoes were soaked and dirty.
My initial reaction was to laugh nervously. (I know, I know)
Whenever I watch YouTube videos where this happens, I usually find it funny as well, so why not laugh at it when I do it myself? I didn’t think about it, but my natural reaction was to just laugh about it.
However, 15 seconds later, I experienced a feeling of guilt and regret. I potentially ruined this man’s day. He might have been on his way to a job interview, a funeral or a first date! What the hell have I done?!?! I quickly stopped my nervous laughter and spent the rest of the day feeling bad.
This feeling of guilt makes me different from a sociopath (and a psychopath).
Was I happier as a result? No, because I spent the rest of the day feeling bad about what I did.
Would a sociopath have felt the same? No. So, therefore, a sociopath might feel happier in some scenarios.
Think about it. Remorse and guilt are emotions that don’t make provide us with short-term happiness. These emotions exist so that we adjust our actions in the future and aim for long-term happiness instead. No one has ever felt happy as a result of feeling guilty.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been researched yet. Would it be possible to have 50 “normal” people and 50 sociopaths all drive through a puddle at high speed in order to splash someone’s shoes? We could then measure their feelings of guilt and remorse, in combination with their feelings of happiness.
If you’re still reading this and haven’t yet clicked the “back” button in order to find a more serious article, then GOOD! This website is about exploring serious questions with a less-serious-but-still-factual approach. I hope it’s working. 🙂
Why sociopaths are less likely to find long-term happiness
In the end, it’s impossible to tell at this point whether or not sociopaths are less happy than “normal people”. Especially with the lack of research in this field of psychology.
However, I still want to do my best to answer the question of this article as best as I can.
Can sociopaths be happy?
Yes, but they are less likely to be as happy as “normal people”.
Why? Because long-term happiness is strongly correlated with developing good relationships.
And since sociopaths are by definition diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, it’s safe to assume that sociopaths are less likely to develop good relationships.
Sociopaths are less inclined to:
- Think about the safety and well-being of others
- Consider how others feel about certain things
- Maintain an enduring relationship, even though they have no difficulty in establishing one
- Feel guilt, regret or remorse
To me, all these things sound pretty crucial in a good relationship. As a result, sociopaths are less inclined to feel emotions that are crucial in developing good relationships
I’ve published a lot already on how good relationships are important for long-term happiness. For example, this article is about how much having friends can influence your happiness. This topic luckily has some supporting research, which all states that friendship is correlated to happiness.
In addition, simply being around others can have a positive effect on your happiness. This article is about how happiness can be contagious. Sharing a smile, or complimenting someone out of nowhere, can have a big positive effect on your own happiness!
Therefore, it makes total sense to me that a lack of good relationships is inversely correlated to happiness. In other words, without good relationships, you are less inclined to feel happy.
These are still just correlations (no causations). But it’s all we have at this point.
Based on the scientific research available, it is safe to say that sociopaths are less inclined to find long-term happiness.
Sociopaths are much more common than one might think. In fact, the word “sociopath” is often used in a meaning that doesn’t match its definition. Still, sociopaths are less inclined to feel emotions that are crucial in developing good relationships. According to scientific research, good relationships are positively correlated with happiness. Therefore, sociopaths are less inclined to find long-term happiness when compared to “normal people”. However, there is no research available specifically about the direct correlation between sociopathy and happiness.
Were you as surprised by this article as I was? I’ve learned a lot about sociopathy that I didn’t know before! Was there anything I missed? Do you have any anecdotes that you want to share? I’d love to know about it in the comments below!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.