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Sociopaths: Can They be Happy? (What Does it Mean to Be One?)


About 1 in 25 people in the USA are sociopaths. Every other night, we hear another news story 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 in today's article.

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:

  • Lying.
  • 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

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 traits 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)

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.

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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 traits as sociopaths, only 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 of being happy.

When can sociopaths be happier?

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 cope better 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.

Because whenever I watch a YouTube video where this happens, I usually find it a little funny as well, so why not laugh about it now? Without giving it much thought, my natural reaction was to just laugh about it.

car splashing pedestrian

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! 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.

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.

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

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Wrapping up

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!

Hugo
Founder of Tracking Happiness

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.

7 thoughts on “Sociopaths: Can They be Happy? (What Does it Mean to Be One?)”

  1. My wife of 40+years has never excepted my offspring's by a previous marriage, neither have she fully embraced my siblings. Along this line of thinking, i do not expect her to.-on second though, i do expect her to allow some kind of a sportive relationship simply because we have children who share the same blood with my siblings as i do. To cut through the chase, she often accuse me of not liking her siblings and somehow feels as though i place my children and sibling on a higher pedestal than hers, which is just not true. However, she expects me to reach out to her family with open arms, which i do, but she never has returned the same in reverse. She has never shown any real affection to me or my children or sibling. At this point i could care less because i am satisfied that i am married to Sociopath

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for sharing this! I hope you are able to deal with this situation the best way possible, and that a better understanding of sociopaths will help you with it.

      Reply
  2. At last I have a label to describe my older sister's behaviour towards me - something that has persisted all my life. When I was a child she switched off the heating to some tropical fish I was keeping - killing them all, she framed me to appear as though I was a thief with my grandparents - I could go on. But she fits all of the categories of a sociopath. Knowing this at least gives me some kind of closure.

    Reply
    • Your sister killing your fish is nasty, but you got away easy. Below is what happens if you are never helped to escape people like your sister. If you have a weak stomach do not read further.
      Both my sister & mother are sociopaths & my father was negligent. Due to the abuse & neglect, I have psychiatric problems and have been physically crippled. Dad refused medical attention and died to escape, but first extracted a promise that I would take care of both, thereby forcing me to revisit my childhood abuse. I have taken care of them, taken their abuse, and in my sister’s case theft of large quantities of $. I am now so sick I can’t walk, and so psychologically sick I can’t protect myself- how does someone protect themselves from an elderly person in assisted living? Caregivers are incapable of caring for her due to her behavior. My sister, only interested in money, manipulates me even when I know she’s doing it. They are slowly killing me either by refusing to allow me to set things up so I can walk, or by manipulating me because I am “devoted” to their care through my need to keep the family fianances going. I have disconnected myself from them for the past few days by making it impossible for them to reach me. This is not a Ling-term solution. I have no one willing to help me because of my own psych problems and because no one wants to get involved with such a mess, & rightly so. That leaves me alone to slowly drown in their abusive uncaring milieux, with my sister’s plans to leave me penniless when my mother dies and no one to help me get away. I sincerely do not wish to die. My ambition is to help others before they end up like me. I welcome any advice.

      Reply
  3. In my unfounded opinion environmental factors create this disproportionate balance between empathy and callousness with usually not enough at if stake to tip the scale. It begins early in childhood when emotionally abandoned by their parents and as a result wire their brains to avoid emotional pain in relationships. This manifests itself in the protective measure of distancing themselves from the societal norms that involve emotions since to appear to fit in a requires a balance between interacting with people while not putting themselves in a position that will blow their cover which will inevitably result if the situation calls for some extreme emotions.This is how they cope in relationships. They know they are deficient in this area and will adjust their behavior as called for by the situation at hand. They are all over the place. It’s like a sailboat with the changing wind while trying to remain even keel. They will pull anything out of the hat to maintain their persona. It’s almost comical. You can’t take anything they say seriously and they know it and they know you know it. It’s another feather in their cap every time they can pull off this stunt and keep their invincibility until the safety net gets pulled and they can’t jump off the building thinking they can fly anymore. The more empathetic you are the more of a feeding frenzy they will have. It’s like a little kid in a candy store. They have no ability to measure cause and effect and when things don’t go their way it can esculent quickly and even result in violence because rational at that stage can be thrown out the window while knowing all along their ability to remorselessly justify their actions regardless of the consequences to you and even themselves. It like a drunk person attempting to drive home. Logic will be to no avail since they already know they are abnormal. This is the only way they know how to swim and refuse to learn another way in fear of drowning.

    Reply
    • In my opinion, my parents were not the most understanding and the most emotionally nurturing in the way that I needed. I didn't feel as if I fit in anywhere and due to anxiety I didn't attend many events and if I did I feel like I was trying a bit harder to get people to like me and I wanted to make sure that people around me were happy. I disliked seeing people upset when I was younger, as a result, I forget about my own emotional needs and I tried to make people happy to my expense and I never got to appropriately express my emotion. I'm a Bisexual male that was closeted for years so I believe I got accustomed to hiding parts of who I am. I eventually ended up with a narcissist for years and I gave up most of the morals and values I have because I just wanted to feel alive and the feeling was too good. I felt empty and felt I was abused by a narcissist, flash forward I was with someone I believed was my soulmate and I felt I was still hiding parts of who I am when I was around his friends/family to be the best version of myself but I always wanted to express my emotions properly I just didn't know how. I feel like I relate to sociopaths and I can avoid pain and emotions for a good while but then after a day or two of being manic and overwhelming myself I end up feeling way too much and Its crippling and too often. I don't believe all sociopaths are the same, and the way I feel is not the same as a sociopath because I care too much but I just believe that my emotions become too much to deal with and people don't always accept me for it. It gets so bad about two times a week that I just want to commit suicide but I don't. Ive been in therapy for a year and a half and I still miss my ex and trying to find myself.

      Reply

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