Personality change linked to better wellbeing

Personality change linked to better wellbeing

By Margaret Rogers

A U.K. study suggests that small personality changes of a positive kind can lead to a greater sense of happiness.  Furthermore, personalities can and do change as we get older.

University of Manchester psychologists say that this greater sense of happiness is experienced on a higher level than a pay rise, marriage or finding a new job.  The study can be found in the journal Social Indicators Research.

Dr. Chris Boyce of the University of Manchester’s School of Psychological Sciences is the lead author of the study.  Boyce says ‘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 in our wellbeing.  Compared with external factors, such as a pay rise, getting married or finding employment, personality change is just as likely and contributes much to improvements in our personal wellbeing.’

It was thought that our personalities were fixed and did not change and as a result of this policies to improve wellbeing have centred around external factors such as employment status, income and marriage.  However, studies have previously shown that our personality amounts to up to 35% of our individual differences in life satisfaction.  This compares to 1% for marital status, 4% for employment and 4% for income.

‘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’ said Dr. Boyce. ‘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.’

The study used data from 7,500 Australian individuals who completed questionnaires about their life satisfaction and their personality on two occasions with a four year interval.  A validated personality method of assessment was used to measure personality.  Five areas of personality were assessed, conscientiousness, openness-to-experiences, agreeableness, extroversion and neuroticism.

Next the researchers set about assessing the extent to which personality had changed.  They also assessed how these changes linked to life satisfaction in comparison to other factors.  These other external factors were changes in income, changes in employment and changes in marital status. 

The researchers discovered that personality changes were as much responsible for life satisfaction.  They also predicted that there is twice the likelihood for personality change than other external event changes. ‘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,’ said Dr. Boyce.  ‘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.  The findings have implications for wellbeing policy, something that the Prime Minister has talked about in the past, and how best to help individuals and nations improve their outlook on life,’ Boyce concluded.

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