Personality Change and Well-Being

Jan 23, 2023

Cavan Bonner

Most people desire to change some aspect of their personality. In a previous blog post, I discussed how the repeated practice of trait-relevant behaviors and skills can change personality traits. This brings up another important question: is this repeated practice likely to induce misery, or can it lead to satisfaction and well-being? 

Let’s focus on the example of extraversion. The personality trait domain of extraversion includes behaviors such as sociability, assertiveness, sensation-seeking, and reward-seeking. A survey of college students found that 87% wanted to become more extraverted (while just 3% wanted to decrease their levels of extraversion!) [1]. This is understandable since being more extroverted is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, such as life satisfaction, occupational satisfaction, romantic satisfaction, social acceptance, and social status [2]. 

It’s important to note that there are powerful genetic factors that contribute to the stability of extraversion: a recent meta-analysis found that about 49% of variation in extraversion can be attributed to genetic causes [3]. However, because the momentary expression of extraversion is inherently social, even people who are relatively low on extraversion will sometimes report acting highly extraverted in relevant situations. In an experience sampling study where participants reported on their behaviors and feelings moments after they had occurred in real life, engaging in extraverted behavior led to exhaustion and depletion later in the day among participants who were low in dispositional trait extraversion [4]. This finding might suggest that trying to enact behaviors that deviate from your current personality is likely to cause lower well-being.  

Nevertheless, in a recent study that followed a sample of college students over a semester, students who reported successfully changing their personality traits in the direction they initially desired also tended to experience increases in life satisfaction and positive emotions at the end of the semester [5]. Practicing these new behaviors was probably exhausting and frustrating for many of these participants at first, but the hard-won personality growth was worth the effort in the long term. These findings suggest that personality change can be exhausting in the short term because you are practicing behavioral skills that you have not yet mastered. However, over the long term, even small improvements in the desired direction can benefit well-being.  

If your New Year’s resolution is to be more social, study more consistently, or be a more compassionate friend or partner, it may be helpful to consider that you are practicing a set of skills and habits that you will have to continue practicing in new contexts throughout your life. You won’t durably change any aspect of your personality overnight, and trying to do so is unlikely to foster well-being. Intentional and sustained practice is more likely to lead to results without the risk of burnout and might lead to greater well-being in the process.  


Cavan Bonner received his B.A. in Psychology from Kalamazoo College in 2021, and currently works as a research manager at the Well-Being and Measurement Lab with Dr. Louis Tay. Cavan is broadly interested in how personality — including traits, values, and belief systems — develops over the lifespan.  



[1] Hudson, N. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2014). Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself. Journal of Research in Personality, 53, 68-83. 

[2] Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401–421. 

[3] Van Den Berg, S. M., De Moor, M. H., McGue, M., Pettersson, E., Terracciano, A., Verweij, K. J., ... & Boomsma, D. I. (2014). Harmonization of neuroticism and extraversion phenotypes across inventories and cohorts in the Genetics of Personality Consortium: an application of Item Response Theory. Behavior Genetics, 44(4), 295-313. 

[4] Pickett, J., Hofmans, J., Feldt, T., & De Fruyt, F. (2020). Concurrent and lagged effects of counterdispositional extraversion on vitality. Journal of Research in Personality, 87, 103965. 

[5] Hudson, N. W., & Fraley, R. C. (2016). Changing for the better? Longitudinal associations between volitional personality change and psychological well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(5), 603-615. 

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