Are you 'The Achiever' or 'The Enthusiast'? Why so many people—including your boss—are obsessed with the Enneagram test
The Enneagram, to its subscribers and skeptics, is different from other personality tests.
Unlike attachment theory, which was founded by psychologist and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the mid-20th century, or even the less science-driven 5 Love Languages, created by a pastor who conducted decades of couples counseling, the Enneagram test has murky origins that are based in neither science nor experience.
"It's one of the more mysterious [tests] to me in terms of where types come from and on what basis it lies," said David Watson, a professor of personality psychology at Notre Dame University. "It's a bit obscure to me."
The most commonly accepted origin story dates back to the 1970s, when the test was popularized in the United States by Oscar Ichazo, a Bolivian philosopher. But a handful of sources trace the test's genesis back to Greek, Islamic and Jewish teachings.
As with many phenomena of questionable scientific origins, it has gained popularity despite a lack of endorsement by the academic community. On TikTok, the hashtag #enneagram has 370.4 million views.
Even if you haven't taken the Enneagram test yourself, you may have been roped into a conversation about it.
Like with astrology, it can be hard to make it through a party or a date without some amount of chatter being dedicated to the popular test and what it might dub you.
The Enneagram test consists of at least 100 questions, and respondents are assigned one of nine "types":
- Type 1: The Reformer
- Type 2: The Helper
- Type 3: The Achiever
- Type 4: The Individualist
- Type 5: The Investigator
- Type 6: The Loyalist
- Type 7: The Enthusiast
- Type 8: The Challenger
- Type 9: The Peacemaker
Fans of the test like that it goes deeper than your average personality test. Your test result comes with a detailed description of that type's motivations and weaknesses.
The Enneagram is 'focused on internal motivations rather than external behaviors'
Unlike other personality tests, the Enneagram has an unlikely foothold in disparate communities.
The test has gained notable traction among evangelical Christians. The book "The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self Discovery" claims to be a guide for those who want understand themselves and connect with God.
It is also fully embraced by some corporations as a tool that can help workers collaborate better. Certified Enneagram coaches are often hired for office retreats or HR seminars. On TikTok, the hashtag #enneagramcoach has 5.3 million views.
It's one of the more mysterious [tests] to me in terms of where types come from and on what basis it lies.David WatsonProfessor at Notre Dame University
Abbey Howe, 32, has been an Enneagram coach since 2020. Her Instagram account, Enneagram with Abbey, has more than 100,000 followers, and her TikTok, Your Enneagram BFF, has 23,500 followers.
Howe, who lives in Pasadena, California, grew up taking the Myers-Briggs Test and other personality tests, but said the Enneagram is different.
"The thing that set Enneagram apart for me was it focused on internal motivations rather than external behaviors," she said. "It also looks at your weaknesses and says, 'Okay, how can we break these patterns.'"
She first heard of the Enneagram test from a friend but didn't take it seriously until she read "The Road Back to You."
"I cried all the way through it," she said. "I felt like my whole life I had been really anxious and wanting to make my parents proud of me and it felt like life or death. I had to succeed at whatever I put my mind to and failure was not an option."
Reading the description of Type 3, "The Achiever," she finally felt seen. Howe said she has never actually taken the Enneagram test itself — "I just find the tests are not super accurate," she said.
To become an Enneagram coach, she reached out to the training company My Enneagram Coach and offered to make a few videos about Enneagram in exchange for free lessons. Within two to three months she was certified and ready to mentor others.
"I wanted to feel more equipped and educated because I knew how much I didn't know and I needed to become a better source for myself and for other people," she said.
She started out doing one-on-one sessions but later pivoted to teaching classes in the workplace. Last year she held 16 corporate workshops. Next month, she is experimenting with online workshops that will be open to the public.
Typologies are 'one thing people seem to like'
Unlike intelligence or performance, there is no universally accepted system that decides whether someone has a good personality or a bad one.
"People get a fair amount of unsystematic feedback about [their personality]," Watson said.
Personality tests are often treated like fair third-party assessments. Though you're entering all the information yourself, the results can feel more objective than asking friends or family to describe you. It can also feel less uncomfortable.
Plus, the test gives you something self-awareness can't: an archetype.
"One thing people seem to like are typologies," Watson said.
Say you take the Enneagram test and are told you're a Type 3, like Howe. This means you're success-oriented and driven but also image-conscious. Or maybe, you're a Type 6, "The Loyalist." This means you're committed and responsible, but also anxious and suspicious.
Most academic personality research doesn't categorize people like this, said Watson. The International Personality Item Pool Test, for example, gives respondents scores in 5 different personality traits:
- Openness to experience.
Instead of assigning you a title, such as "extrovert" or "introvert," the test tells you how much extraversion you seem to have.
The IPIP test is a "better predictor of behavior," Watson said.
It's also less fun.
"People don't like that," Watson said. "They like to combine their characteristics into types."
Like astronomy or other typologies, every Enneagram test result is positive.
"This is both the seductive aspect of these sites and the potential danger," Watson said. "They make people feel good about themselves. The types themselves are all couched in positive terms."
Obviously, this doesn't really reflect all the personalities in the world.
"There is a problem of bad personalities," Watsons said. "There are a lot of people who don't have an attractive set of traits."
Personality tests like the Enneagram will never reveal this.
'It helps me understand why I'm such an "oddball"'
Watson is admittedly not a huge fan of tests such as the Enneagram — "I basically mock most of these sites in my class," he said — but he also understands the appeal.
"Personally I would not put a lot of stock in it, but I would not discourage people from taking these tests as long as it helps you think about yourself and understand yourself," he said. "But I wouldn't take it too seriously if you get feedback and it doesn't ring true."
For some academic psychologists, the popularity of the tests serves as a mark against them.
"I used to be much more negative about them because they are so popular," said Robin Edelstein, a psychology professor who studies personality and relationships at the University of Michigan.
I used to be much more negative about them because they are so popular.Robin EdelsteinProfessor at University of Michigan
The fact that some people pay for their results or for coaching also gives Edelstein pause.
She does, though, see some value in the tests. While she wouldn't use the tests to make any "important life decisions," she can appreciate their ability to springboard thoughtful discussion, she said.
"The most useful way to use them is to spark conversation," she said. "Think about, 'Here are the ways I'm different from other people.' That might be helpful in understanding yourself."
Evan Hubbard, 30, loves the Enneagram test for this exact reason.
Hubbard, who works in accounting in Dallas, Texas, said it helps her understand how she differs from other people.
"I'm a 5, and my entire family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, are basically all 1's, 3's, and 8's," she said. "It helps me understand why I'm such an 'oddball.'"
It has also helped her recognize when she is going into an "unhealthy place mentally," she said.
"If I become a hermit, big sign I'm headed to a not great place and need to start reaching out for support," she said.
Both Hubbard and Howe agree that although the test resonated with them, it is still just a test.
In fact, their advice when it comes to heeding the test isn't all that different from that of academic psychologists: Pay attention to the parts that help you and discard the parts that don't.
Despite making Enneagram her career, Howe still takes its teachings "with a grain of salt."
"I don't like when people make the Enneagram or any personality test their entire personality," she said. "It's a tool. If it helps you, use it. If it doesn't, leave it."
DON'T MISS: Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our new newsletter!
Get CNBC's free Warren Buffett Guide to Investing, which distills the billionaire's No. 1 best piece of advice for regular investors, do's and don'ts, and three key investing principles into a clear and simple guidebook.