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She's got a nice...personality. This old trope from buddy comedies always bothered me. It's become accepted hollywood slang now for "he/she is actually ugly", when in fact we all know people whose beauty (or ugliness) can't be captured in photos because their way of living in our four dimensional space-time world just doesn't shine through on two dimensional paper. You can take care of your body by eating well, exercising, sleeping, etc. - but that's about the extent of what you can do to improve your physical beauty (short of drastic surgical enhancements). You're kind of born with what you have and most of us are rather average looking.

But personalities...they vary much more widely and we can do so much to affect them. Everyone's got eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth, pretty much in similar proportions give or take a few millimeters, but think of the vastness in difference between the personalities of people like the Dalai Lama, Eric Cartman, Abraham Lincoln, Jerry Sandusky, Helen Keller, and Steve Jobs. They all were born into this world as dependent little babies (well except for South Park's Eric Cartman), but through years of hard work or sloth, their genetic predispositions were shaped by social and environmental interactions that made them into the personalities they ended up with. Isn't a great personality much more inspiring than someone who was born with slightly bigger, bluer eyes than the rest of us?

So what do we mean when we talk about personality? I'm going to quote at length below from my philosophy to show the different roots and branches of it. Personalities are multi-leveled and highly detailed little things - kind of like the tree in this picture, growing from a single seed in many different directions searching for ways to meet all the needs and desires that are inside of us. Sometimes our personalities grow in a single direction, neglecting other possibilities around us, but that isn't the way to grow to your fullest potential. Better to know thyself and explore your personality far and wide.

Our individual bodies and minds combine to give us personalities. Psychologists currently list three levels of personality.

  1. Basic Traits / The Big Five (OCEAN) - Openness to new experiences, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism
  2. Characteristic Adaptations - personal goals, defense mechanisms, values, beliefs, life stage concerns
  3. Life Story - past, present, and future woven into a vitalizing myth

While your genes and your upbringing play a large role in shaping the tendencies of your personality, they are in no way fixed at any time in your life. Actively seek to know and improve these personality traits - they are yours to build.

In the early 2000’s, positive psychologists created another way to look at your personality - as an inventory of character strengths. Sifting through 200 catalogs of virtue (Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Augustine, Bible, Talmud, Confucius, Buddha, Lao Tze, Bushido, Koran, Upanishads, etc.) yields 24 strengths in 6 categories.

  1. Wisdom / Knowledge: 1) Curiosity; 2) Love of Learning; 3) Judgment; 4) Ingenuity; 5) Emotional Intelligence; 6) Perspective
  2. Courage: 7) Valor; 8) Perseverance; 9) Integrity
  3. Humanity: 10) Kindness; 11) Loving
  4. Justice: 12) Citizenship; 13) Fairness; 14) Leadership
  5. Temperance: 15) Self-Control; 16) Prudence; 17) Humility
  6. Transcendence: 18) Appreciation of Beauty / Excellence; 19) Gratitude; 20) Hope; 21) Spirituality / Philosophy; 22) Forgiveness; 23) Humor; 24) Zest

We are not born with these strengths, but we are born able to learn them and we feel happy when we do. Know your strengths. Build them.

Psychologists have devised many instruments to test personalities. Use them. Know thyself.
  • The Big Five
  • The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire 
  • Authentic Happiness Character Strengths
  • strengthsfinder
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • DISC assessments
  • IQ
  • EQ
  • Multiple Intelligences (Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Linguistic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, Existential)
  • Attachment styles
  • Measures of Self-control (Marshmallow Test, Dual N-back)
  • Bain gender
  • Grit

That's all I'll say for now about our personalities. I'm moving to Australia next week where I'll be spending the next five months in Canberra where my wife will be doing research for her sabbatical. I'll try to back blogging about the next elements of my Evolutionary Philosophy in about two weeks time. Hopefully, I'll have lots of pictures of kangaroos and platypuses to use for metaphors about hopping to it and embracing your many parts. In the meantime, go take some of these free psychological tests I've listed above. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

 


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