Recently, a friend of mine sent me a rather lengthy article written by a woman who undertook a three-month experiment to try to change her personality. Besides suggesting that it might be a source of humor for a new essay, I couldn’t help but wonder if my friend was trying to tell me something.
Nevertheless, with my ego intact, I went ahead and read the article. It was very detailed, full of references to psychology theory and personality studies, with the overwhelming conclusion that, yes, with some effort, a person could actually alter their personality, if they were so motivated.
The author of the article, admitted in paragraph three that she never really liked her personality, and other people didn’t like it either. Naturally, this harsh self-assessment forced me to turn inward. Did I like my own personality? How did those around me feel? Did I care?
Did you know that psychologists say that personality is made up of five traits? Well, neither did I before reading this article. So let me womansplain:
- Extroversion, or how sociable you are;
- Conscientiousness, or how self-disciplined and organized you are;
- Agreeableness, or how warm and empathetic you are;
- Openness, or how receptive you are to new ideas and activities;
- Neuroticism, or how depressed and anxious you are.
People tend to be happier and healthier when they score high on the first four traits, and lower on neuroticism. So where did I fall on the happy\healthy scale?
I don’t think I aced extroversion. While I have many friends, I tend to savor my time alone. I prefer being with one or two people as opposed to large groups. I’m no good at small talk, and absolutely suck at cocktail parties. Besides, standing up and nursing a glass of wine in my party shoes becomes more challenging with each passing year!
I do get points for conscientiousness. I am orderly, organized, and disciplined, and tend to be punctual except when I misplace the car keys.
Regarding the third dimension, agreeableness, I’d give myself an eight overall. Though not overly kissy-huggie, I think of myself as warm towards others, provided they don’t insist I go to lunch with them. I definitely relate to the feelings of others and am on Step 9 of a 10-step program to becoming an empath. I’m not competitive and will usually give in to other people’s restaurant suggestions, providing it’s not for lunch!
Am I open to new ideas and activities? I enjoy intellectual conversations and hearing different points of view. I’m game for visiting new places and trying new foods, and I did once make an honest effort to learn to play canasta.
And finally, we come to neuroticism. This is the one trait where we’d rather not score in the 99th percentile. Honestly, don’t we all have our little neuroses? But to what extent do I allow mine to rule my life? Shall I calculate how much I’ve spent on therapy? That might provide a clue. But I don’t feel sad or anxious or carry around a prescription for emergency Xanax. In general, I guess I have a pretty positive outlook. Except perhaps when it comes to lunch.
So, what, if any, valuable lessons have I learned from this grueling self-assessment? And what, if anything, would I want to change to live the rest of my days as a happier, healthier person, as well as be less punishing to those who have to deal with me? Based on my scores, I don’t believe that a complete change is necessary. But I have identified a few areas that probably could benefit from an adjustment.
For starters, I believe that wearing lower heels at cocktail parties will incrementally improve my capacity for small talk. As for misplacing my car keys, I’m prepared to invest in a honing devise. To better understand different viewpoints, I commit to completing the last step on my Empath program. And, to reinforce that I am open to new ideas and activities, I will reconsider canasta lessons.
And finally, I come to the greatest challenge. And please respond quickly before I change my mind. Anyone out there want to have lunch?