You can smile your way to a more agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable personality, according to new research.
You probably know a few people in your life who seem happiness averse. No matter how much the sun shines or fortune smiles on these sad souls, they just never seem to be enjoying things much. Maybe they’re inveterate worriers or deep-in-the-bone pessimists, but whatever the specifics, some personalities just seem immune to good vibes.
Maybe you’re one of them. If so, a new study out of the Colby Personality Lab might interest you. Turns out that the common-sense wisdom that personality profoundly affects our ability to be happy might be only half the story. According to this new research, personality isn’t the unmovable anchor around which we turn in our search for happiness; character can shift, and happiness can drag our personalities away from their darker tendencies.
Smile Your Way to a New Personality?
The everyday understanding of happiness as fleeting and personality as immutable was challenged by a survey of 16,367 Australians from 2005-2009. The research aimed not just to confirm earlier studies showing that character traits such as neuroticism, unfriendliness, and a distaste for adventure correlate with lower levels of happiness, but also to look at what effect reported well-being had on personality over time. Put simply: Would being happy at the beginning of the study change people’s personality over the four-year period?
The write-up cautions that the study relied on self-reporting of emotional states and personality data, which can sometimes be unreliable, and may have missed other causes affecting these personality shifts. Also, the tendency of happiness to lead to increased introversion surprised the researchers, as more extroverted people tend to be happier. They speculated that being happy may decrease the motivation for already satisfied people to go out and meet new people.
All in all, given the choice between being cursed with a happiness-resistant personality for life and hearing that, to some degree, we may be able to change our disposition to increase our well-being, the second option sounds like good news. Though the grumpy among us would no doubt caution that, whatever the studies say, they really shouldn’t be used as further ammunition for those born with a sunny outlook to further blame or misunderstand those not so inclined for their darker outlook or lack of constant cheerfulness. Pessimism has its uses, too.
Do you believe that being happy can change your personality?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel