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Mark Holder, Ph.D.

Are Psychopaths Happy?

Psychopaths get what they want and don't feel guilty. So are they happy?

Dean Drobot/Shutterstock
Source: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Are psychopaths happy people? You may think they are: After all, psychopaths effectively manipulate people with their superficial charm and pathological lying to get what they want. Additionally, they lack empathy and display callousness toward others, so they don’t experience the guilt that would normally decrease their happiness. Therefore, psychopaths may be happy, you'd surmise, because they are mostly focused on their own needs and desires.

On the other hand, psychopaths may be unhappy due to the quality of their interpersonal relationships. Romantic relationships and friendships are critical to happiness. In fact, it is difficult to find a happy person who doesn’t have good relationships. For happiness, it is the quality, not the quantity, of relationships that contributes to well-being. Psychopaths’ interpersonal relationships tend to be shallow and superficial. This is not surprising given that psychopaths often display anger, hostility, impulsiveness, and poor emotional intelligence.

So are psychopaths happy or unhappy?

To answer this question, Ashley Love and I assessed components of well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, and positive emotions) and ill-being (depression and negative emotions) in more than 400 undergraduates. We also assessed their levels of psychopathy.

We found that the higher the levels of psychopathy the participants reported, the lower the levels of well-being and the higher the levels of ill-being these students had. So we know that psychopaths are generally not happy people.

But we wanted to know explore this further: What contributed to the psychopaths’ unhappiness?

In a second study, we measured the quality of the undergraduates’ romantic relationships. We found that undergraduates who were found to have higher levels of psychopathy traits tended to report having poorer romantic relationships. For both males and females, higher levels of psychopathy were associated with lower levels of commitment and trust, and a lower overall quality of romantic relationships. Males with high levels of psychopathy also reported lower levels of romance and satisfaction in their romantic relationships.

The results from our studies suggest that people with high levels of psychopathic tendencies are generally unhappy. They show low levels of positive emotions and life satisfaction, and high levels of negative emotions and depression. Further, this unhappiness is partially explained by the poor quality of their romantic relationships.


Love, A. B., & Holder, Mark D. (2016). Can romantic relationship quality mediate the relation between psychopathy and subjective well-being? Journal of Happiness Studies, 17, 2407-2429.

Love, A. B., & Holder, M. D. (2014). Psychopathy and Well-Being. Personality and Individual Differences, 66, 112-117.

About the Author

Mark Holder, Ph.D., leads a research team at the University of British Columbia dedicated to understanding and enhancing happiness.