The traditional belief that personalities are set in stone is now under review as a new study shows that small personality changes can occur. Most importantly, these alterations can lead to a more satisfied and happier life.
Psychologists from The University of Manchester and London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have published their study in the journal Social Indicators Research.
“We found that our personalities can and do change over time — something that was considered improbable until now – and that these personality changes are strongly related to changes in our wellbeing, “ says lead author Dr Chris Boyce.
“Compared with external factors, such as a pay rise, getting married or finding employment, personality change is just as likely and contributes much more to improvements in our personal wellbeing.”
Studies of life satisfaction have shown that personality accounts for up to 35 percent of individual differences in life satisfaction, compared to just 4 percent for income, 4 percent for employment status and between 1 – 4 percent for marital status.
Attempts to improve wellbeing have focused on the lower factors as it was believed that our personalities are fixed. However, because it was believed our personalities were fixed, policies to improve wellbeing have focused on these lower-impacting external factors.
Dr Boyce said: “Our research suggests that governments could measure ‘national personality’; for example, whether the population is becoming more extroverted, conscientious, open to experience, and agreeable, and how this links to national events.
“Fostering the conditions where personality growth occurs — such as through positive schooling, communities, and parenting – may be a more effective way of improving national wellbeing than GDP growth.”
Researchers reviewed a large data set of 7,500 individuals from Australia who had answered questions on their life satisfaction and personality at two time points four years apart.
Personality was measured using a well-validated personality questionnaire assessing five broad dimensions which cover the breadth of a person’s personality: openness-to-experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Investigators then reviewed the extent to which personality changed and how these changes related to life satisfaction in comparison to external factors, such as changes to income, changes to employment and changes to marital status.
Surprisingly, they found that personality changes at least as much as these external factors. The personality changes significantly influenced or predicted changes to life satisfaction reported over the study period.
Dr Boyce added: “The focus of many wellbeing studies in economics is on how changes to our circumstances, such as a higher income, getting married or a different job might influence our wellbeing. The influence of our personality is often ignored in these types of studies in the belief that our personality can’t or doesn’t change.
We show that personality can and does change and, not only is it more likely to change than an income increase, it contributes much more to changes in our wellbeing.
“Our research suggests that by focusing on who we are and how we relate to the world around us has the potential to unlock vast improvements in our wellbeing.”
All said, the potential to have a better outlook on life appears very doable.