Narcissists they may have delusions of greatness about their own importance and lack modesty, but according to a team of psychologists they are also more likely to be happy than most people.
A study on narcissism conducted by researchers at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, found that these people, although exasperating others, are less likely to get stressed or depressed.
Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, the psychologist who led the study, says that negative responses to narcissism can overlook the benefits that narcissists themselves have.
Researchers have been trying to understand why narcissism seems to be "on the rise in modern societies" – in politics, social networks and celebrity culture – if it is seen as "socially toxic."
"Little shame or remorse"
Researchers define a narcissist as someone who can "maintain risky behaviors, have a superior and unrealistic concept of himself, have excessive self-confidence, little empathy with others and little shame or remorse."
Having those negative characteristics, the researchers wanted to know why narcissism seems to be so visible and is often rewarded instead of penalized.
Narcissism is one of the "dark features" identified by psychologists, along with psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism.
But Dr. Papageorgiou's research with 700 adults suggests that although it may be bad for society, narcissism seems to be beneficial for the narcissist himself.
They are people who are able to trample on others and leave a trace of emotional damage around them, but they also seem to be protected against feeling bad about themselves.
They have lower levels of stress and are less likely to see life as stressful and with their self-confidence and their high opinion of themselves seem to be "protective" qualities.
"Concern with power"
This study is a follow-up to a previous work by the Belfast team that showed that narcissists were more likely to succeed both at work and in their social life, with a "mental hardness" that helps them overcome rejection and disappointment .
Dr. Papageorgiou also analyzed how different dimensions of narcissism can have different emotional results.
Narcissists with high beliefs of greatness may be "concerned with status and power" and have an "exaggerated sense of importance," he says.
But "vulnerable" narcissists can be much more defensive and tend to view other people's behavior as "hostile."
In terms of their own sense of well-being and ability to handle stress, "great" narcissists are likely to have "very positive" characteristics, according to Papageorgiou.
"Although of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive results," he says.
These psychological characteristics "should not be seen as good or bad but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that can be beneficial or harmful depending on the context," he adds.
And the researcher points out that future studies could find a way to cultivate some of these characteristics and discourage others "for the collective good."
By Sean Coughlan
BBC Family and Education Correspondent