Traits, States and Well-being
I'd like to share with you my experience of personality research and if it has led me to any useful conclusions about myself. What I really want is to be happy, in my own well defined sense of what constitutes happiness. My concern is does my personality impose limits on this vision of my happiness? That's assuming something as complex as personality can be measured, this is a monumental and separate topic that dates back to the days of Hippocrates. For the purposes of this exploration, I'm going to assume it can.
The only evidence based tool I have to go on is the Big Five Inventory personality test (John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. 1999) which has been refined over decades and is generally accepted by psychologists to reliably measure it's five main constructs of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
I conducted this test as instructed, users will often try to sway the results of these test to gain socially desirable outcomes, a big problem when it comes to personality profiling. I was no different, I wanted to score moderately in openness, high in conscientiousness, moderately extraverted, moderately agreeable and very low in neuroticism. And the result was.... o bother, that's not what I wanted, I'm not who I want to be at all!
I was instantly on PubMed devouring studies into the big 5 and a multitude of topics including longevity, career success, drug addiction, suicide, divorce rates, health outcomes, depression, anxiety, stress, criminality, academic success. "I'm going to die alone in a prison cell, addicted to heroin, with no legacy and my wife is going to leave me!" I wailed. The true cry of a neurotic having discovered he didn't get the personality he wanted.
Don't worry, it doesn't end there, this short tale has a happy ending for this lowly extroverted and highly neurotic explorer of personality truth. I can point to many instances in my life where I have been warm towards others, outgoing, assiduous, assertive, kind, equable, successful, energetic, inspiring, courageous, sociable, funny. Do I think that happiness is harder for me to attain than someone with a different personality to me? No, because I know what it means to be happy and how to get there. I may be predisposed toward some traits but that doesn't prevent me from occupying positive mental states and intentionally desirable behaviours that I know will lead me toward my vision of happiness.
I enjoy reading about personality research, it interests me, but I don't hold a great deal of stock in personality profiling tools. I could ask a room full of people how extroverted they are on a scale of 0-100 and have an extremely valuable coaching conversation about how they arrived at that score and what that means to them. For me, the Big Five Inventory belongs in an academic setting where studies can be conducted and analysed by teams of experts looking to answer important questions that further our understanding of human health in a peer reviewed process.
Have you conducted a personality test? What was it and was it useful?
John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives.