You probably feel like you know yourself—how you tend to think, act, and feel in certain situations. You know that you prefer intimate gatherings with a few friends over big parties, or that you’re a bit of a perfectionist. Psychologists call these characteristic patterns personality.
As interest in learning about personality has grown, many different kinds of personality assessments have become popular. You may have taken one at some point, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC assessment, the Enneagram…the list goes on. I should note that, while many people swear by these popular personality tests, most don’t have research to back them up. However, we do have solid research showing that there are five basic personality traits: openness to new experience, extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability.
But is there value in knowing one’s personality type? And can knowing your own personality scores actually make you happier?
Like everything in psychology, it depends! But there are many ways in which knowing your personality can be helpful.
- You can play to your strengths. If you’re high on openness to new experience, for example, perhaps you’re well suited to a career in the arts, whereas if you’re very low on agreeableness, a customer service position is not going to be a good fit.
- You know what you need. When you know what your needs are, you’re far more likely to fulfill those needs. For example, if you know you’re an extrovert, you can make sure to have enough social contact; if you’re more of an introvert (like I am), you’ll know to plan for adequate time alone to recharge between social events.
- Personality can help predict mental health conditions. There are significant links between certain personality traits and mental health; for example, people who are high on neuroticism (that is, low on emotional stability) are at an increased risk for depression. When you’re aware of that risk, you can make more conscious efforts to protect your mood.
- Awareness increases the possibility for change. By recognizing patterns that don’t serve us well, we can work to change them. Contrary to popular belief, personality can change over time. In fact, a review article found that personality can change significantly over just 6 weeks of treatment. So if you realize, for example, that you’re not as agreeable as you’d like to be, there’s hope that you can become a nicer person.
This possibility of change also suggests that knowing ourselves is an ongoing process of discovery. As we evolve over time, we need to continue taking an active interest in our personalities in order to stay current. Otherwise we’ll be treating ourselves like a person who no longer exists.
Curious about your own personality scores? There are free assessments available online, such as this one: Open Source Psychometrics Project Big Five Personality Test.