Would You Be Happier With a Different Personality?

Aug 12, 2016

By Scott Barry Kaufman

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on books and seminars claiming to help people change their personalities. These books are built on the assumptions that personality can change, and that changing personality is good: Altering the basics of who you are will make you a better, healthier, happier person. Last week, I wrote about how the latest science of personality suggests that personality can indeed change—either through natural maturation, new responsibilities, or intentional strategies. But would changing your personality actually make you happier?

Recently, a series of studies in Australia looked to see whether changes in personality (regardless of the cause) were associated with increases in life satisfaction. The series drew on the country’s HILDA Survey (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia), which annually assesses the personality, life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect of a large, nationally representative sample of Australia’s population. In one of the studies, researchers examined the data from 11,104 Australians, ages 18 to 79, over the course of four years. They found that increases in extraversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness were all associated with increased life satisfaction, whereas increases in neuroticism were associated with decreased life satisfaction.

Another study, conducted on more than 8,000 Australians, found that personality changes during this same time period occurred as often as changes in socio-economic factors, such as income, unemployment, and marital status. Together, these two studies add to a growing body of literature suggesting that personality changes are related to changes in life satisfaction, and that personality change can even be a better predictor of life satisfaction than many of the external variables that are normally considered in economic models of happiness.


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