Six Traits Popular People Have in Common


In recent years, TV game shows have appeared in which ordinary people live together, perform challenges, and compete for the viewer’s affection. Members of the public then vote for their favorite, and it is fascinating to observe the personality traits that most appeal.


Popular people give their real self and hide nothing. That does not mean they loudly voice an opinion on everything, simply that they meet you as an equal.

The young tend to be more impressed by style. Indeed, pretending to be something you are not is part of teenage rebellion. Teens play with different roles and identities – goth, punk, hippy, etc. – in order to work out who they are. Gradually, most grow out of this.

Maturity means laying these masks aside, working out who you really are, and then having the strength to be that person. Of course, what you really are may be dull or unpleasant. Still, most prefer someone unpleasant but authentic to a charming fake. Human beings yearn for connection and intimacy, and you cannot be intimate with a fake. Indeed, spend time with such a person and loneliness is guaranteed.

Fakes can also be unnerving and even frightening (psychopaths, for example, possess a supernatural ability to conceal their true feelings). Inevitably, people wonder what they are hiding. After all, who ever met an open, honest conman?

There is also something unstable about a fake. In his book The Divided Self, British psychiatrist R. D. Laing even argues that schizophrenics begin by hiding their real self. As this disappears behind a series of elaborate masks, they forget how to be themselves. The true self then suffocates and a breakdown occurs.


Few people are so contemptible as those who believe in, and stand for, nothing. The sort of person who sticks his neck out for no one, never expresses moral outrage, and appears to have no principles or code of honor. And none are so admired as those who stand by their beliefs even when the majority oppose them.

The historian Max Hastings once remarked that after a lifetime writing about war he admired physical courage less and less. After all, such courage comes naturally to men pumped with testosterone and adrenalin. By forming groups and fighting other young men they merely obey their evolutionary programming.

Far more admirable, said Hastings, is the person with moral courage: the soldier who refuses to join in the rape of a civilian or murder of a prisoner. He has his own code of honor, and he compromises this for no one.

It is often said that confidence is immensely attractive. And this is true. But confidence is different to shallow, flashy arrogance. In fact, arrogance and aggression often mask insecurity. True confidence flows from self-awareness – knowing who you are and what you stand for. Such people are rarely obtrusive or overbearing. On the contrary, they tend to be calm and quiet.

Posing No Threat

In general, we over-estimate how confident and secure others really are. Many people are in fact riddled with self-doubt, no matter how they appear on the surface. Indeed, therapists spend much of their time addressing self-esteem issues. The more you threaten someone’s self-esteem, the more they will avoid and shun you.

Sometimes, people undermine others out of sheer spite. For many, this is a way to boost their own self-esteem. Think back to your school days. At no other time do you have so many insecure people crammed together in one place. And the result is often bullying and cruelty. After all, the quickest escape from insecurity is humiliating someone else.

More often, people undermine and belittle others without even realizing it. Self-esteem partly depends on how we compare to friends and neighbors. When they succeed, we feel diminished. The British comedian Armando Iannucci once joked that only two things in life bring pure pleasure: unwrapping a new CD and seeing other people fail.

Popular people do not boast. On the contrary, they mock and ridicule themselves. And the moment they do, others visibly relax. You can almost hear the sigh of relief! This should not be confused with self-loathing, by the way. Self-loathing makes others uncomfortable and seems whiny and self-pitying. It also suggests a lack of confidence and inner strength. The most popular people are both confident and self-effacing.

Cheerfulness and Enthusiasm

Most people find life a struggle. Consider an average day: a fight through the morning commute, the stress and boredom of work, money worries, arguments with their partner, sulky adolescent children, etc. The last thing people want or need is a miserable, gloomy friend.

The actor and comedian Stephen Fry once observed that cheerfulness is a form of kindness. Cheerful people reassure others. Their smiles and laughter remind them that life can be good and that there are things worth celebrating.

Not only do people find life hard, there are times when they wonder if it’s even worth the struggle. No doubt there have been moments in your own life when you’ve sighed and thought “what’s the point?” Enthusiasm snaps you out of this. The most loveable enthusiast is not self-centred, however. Enthusiasm about your promotion, pay rise, or new house will only make others feel bad about themselves. Instead, be enthusiastic about things everyone can share, like a cancer cure breakthrough or an upturn in the economy.

Curious and Engaged

A cliché it may be, but the bored really are boring. Likeable people tend to be intelligent and engaged. Their minds are open and receptive, and everything interests them. Popular people also tend to be yes-sayers, keen to try and learn new things, but never showing off when they do.

Intelligence means different things to different people. And this can be seen by contrasting intelligence with cleverness. A clever person has a quick brain: they pass exams with ease, complete puzzles, win quizzes, and so on. Intelligence, on the other hand, suggests something deeper and broader.

Humor, charm, and empathy are all forms of intelligence. The merely clever, on the other hand, often seem limited and cold. We have all met some arrogant surgeon or professor with the emotional intelligence of a child!


None of these traits amount to much if you lack basic manners. You can be cheerful, self-mocking, and so on, but if you are also rude everyone will avoid you. Again, people define this word in different ways. However you define it, it certainly involves more than saying please and thank you. Lots of people are polite, but only in an empty, robotic way; and style without substance goes only so far.

Real manners depend on empathy. The individual senses discomfort, sadness, awkwardness, etc. and does what he can to alleviate them. If cheerfulness is a form of kindness, then so are good manners.

This is especially evident during conversation. Many people are incapable of holding a civilized conversation. In fact, many are incapable of holding a conversation, period. Again, empathy is the key. Plenty of individuals believe they are good conversationalists because they are witty, eloquent, and well-read. Yet if they lack empathy, and do not care how others feel, such qualities seem hollow and even false.

The well-mannered reply to what the other person actually said. They show an interest. Some merely wait for others to finish and then launch into a monologue that has nothing to do with the subject. And when polite people disagree (which in itself is a kind of compliment, since it shows you’ve listened and taken the other person’s views seriously) they do so gently and respectfully.

Unfortunately, many treat a conversation as a challenge or fight. Even a chat about the weather or football results becomes a fight. They raise their voice, talk over people, and batter their ‘opponent’ into submission.

Obviously, there is no special trick to make others like you. In fact, try too hard and you will only irritate them. The key is to try without seeming to try.

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Mark Goddard

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Mark Goddard