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Happy to change

30 March 2012

Happiness is an eagerly sought commodity. In a world where the blandishments of consumerism are looking tarnished there is a growing awareness that what is of true value in life lies within, and cannot be taken away by GFCs or one-dimensional banks. We label the state that we aspire to as “happiness” and a lot of research is going on into what happiness is as well as how to create it. Now a new study has added something to the understanding of happiness with the revelation that central to happiness is the capacity to change your personality.

Previously research has indicated that personality accounts for up to 35 per cent of individual differences in life satisfaction compared to just four per cent for income, four per cent for employment status and between one and four per cent for marital status. However, since it was previously believed that personality is essentially fixed, little attention was paid to it.

In this study 7500 Australians answered questionnaires designed to measure their personality and life satisfaction. Four years later they completed the tests again.

They also looked at changes in income, employment status, and marital situation.

The first interesting finding was that personality did change significantly for some people in that four year period. So personality is not fixed but is a fluid factor in your life.

The next interesting finding was that changes in personality were twice as likely to lead to an increase in life satisfaction as were changes in any of the other parameters measured.

The implications of this are massive. British Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that measuring a nation’s happiness is more indicative of how a country is performing than is Gross Domestic product (GDP). The Himalayan country of Bhutan already measures Gross National Happiness. The question then becomes, how do you increase happiness?

This study suggests that individuals, societies, and governments should not be looking to change the circumstances of people to increase happiness. What increases happiness is an ability to change who you are. That might be challenging but it also empowering. Be you but be new, and happiness will grow.