Changing Your Personality and Your Life.
This case study is based on a research that
identified the differences between people who reported frequent or
prolonged states of happiness or unhappiness (Please
see research note 1 below)
This paper explores the logic, mindset and
cognitive (thinking) patterns of happy and unhappy personalities. It
identifies some of the key characteristics of their thinking and
behavior, and how they impact their emotional well-being.
The research identifies four types of personalities; pragmatic
pessimists, irrational pessimists, pragmatic optimists, and irrational
At the end of the paper, a simple, yet effective strategy is proposed to help you
transform your personality and lead a happier life.
Keywords: Pessimism, optimism,
self-fulfilling prophecy, frequency and intensity of feeling, selective
perception, irrational vs. pragmatic, correlation vs. causation,
reinforcement cycle, and sustainable emotional well-being
The Unhappy Personality
Unhappy people tend to be pessimists. The unhappy personalities tend to be irrational pessimist; they exaggerate the negative
impact of events and propel their thinking into worst-case scenarios.
Pessimists fall into two main groups(1)
pragmatic pessimists; they appear to be good risk managers, and (2)
irrational pessimists; they
appear to be highly risk averse.
The irrational pessimists miss on socioeconomic
growth opportunities and new life experiences. They exhibit the one or
more of the following thinking and behavioral patterns:
They do not like meeting new people, fear
rejection or suspect other people's intentions.
They may reject new job offers with higher
pay, because they fear uncertainty, regardless of their self-esteem.
Unhappy personalities tend to live with bad events longer than when the actual event
took place. They can't let go of the past: they dwell on their
misfortunes and the mistakes of others for long periods of time.
Their minds exaggerate the negative
experiences. When something bad happens, it is not just a bad event,
it's a bad day or worse a bad life. Some of them are masters of
negative chain thinking. For example, if they make a mistake on a
project, they think they’ll lose their jobs and in turn their
relationships and eventually their lives are destroyed. This causes
them a lot of anxiety and stress
When a good thing happens, they think it’s a
fluke. Pessimists are so focused and preoccupied with
negative experiences that their minds filter out the good experiences
and their memories recall mainly bad events. They appear to have a
selective memory biased towards the negative and risks more than the
positive and opportunities.
Unhappy people almost always blame others or
external life circumstances for their own failures.
When bad things happen, most of the time, they find
themselves asking a negative "Why me?" or "Why can’t I have
this or that? Why can’t I be this or that? Why can't I have a break?"
Pessimists tend to justify
their attitude by negative historical events or past major traumas, but
what they don’t realize is that past events are dead and these events
only live in their minds.
Their main motto is 'life is not fair'. They
tend to be overly sensitive people and use negativity or
pessimism as a defense mechanism.
They tend to keep their expectations low in
order to risk fewer disappointments. What they don’t realize is that
this thinking pattern, over time and with practice, creeps into
other areas of life, which leads to self-fulfilling prophecy. In some cases, negative
expectations of others can lead to passive, defensive or
aggressive behavior, which incites similar reactions from
others, thus falling into the trap of negative self-fulfilling
prophecies. That cycle reinforces their negative
expectation of events or people and they declare "I knew it" or "I had a feeling it
was going to be bad".
Pessimists become subjected to
chronic stress and longer periods of depression, anxiety or anger and may
develop mental and physical diseases, such as headaches, high blood-pressure or low sexual-drive.
Worst yet, their expectations of most
things and events in life become so low that their life for the most
part, lacks excitement and joy. The frequency and intensity of unhappy
experiences are much more than happy experiences. They also negatively
influence their family, colleagues and friends.
In short, the irrational pessimistic thinking
pattern doesn't merely ruin a good time; it causes individuals more
stress and exerts a lot of pressure on their personal and work
relationships. In other words, "it sucks happiness out of their lives
and the lives of the people they love".
On the other hand, let's examine the opposite personality type
The Happy Personality
Happy people tend to be optimists. The happy
personalities tend to be pragmatic optimists; they tend to focus on the
positive impact of positive events and propel their thinking into
best-case scenarios that helps them identify new opportunities and they
follow up with actions to capitalize on the opportunities.
For example, optimists get an invitation to a
new project, and then
their mind starts to generate positive thoughts. They assure themselves that they’ll look and sound
their best and succeed. They become highly motivated and prepare for
success. They do not ignore or avoid risks, instead they manage them
(but not as good as the pessimists) they instead tend to focus on how to
capitalize on the opportunity.
They exhibit the one or more of the
following thinking and behavioral patterns:
If someone wrongs
them or something goes wrong, they think it is a mistake or a barrier
that can be overcome.
make a public mistake, they view it as part of a learning process. They
have good self-confidence and they know that no one is perfect.
They do not
care as much about what other people think of them. Their
peace of mind and goals are more important to them.
When something good happens, it's a good day;
that will add to a good life.
The best of
them are masters at positive spin. For example, if they make a mistake or
fail an assignment, they use it as a learning step for better future
Even if they lose their jobs, they believe they can find another one
with better pay and whatever skills they have learned at their previous
job they can use for bettering their new careers.
When something bad
happens optimists think it’s a fluke. Most of the time they find
themselves asking a positive “How?” They ask, "How
can I achieve this? How can I be/do this?"
Their main motto is 'life is
not fair, but I’m going to make the best of it and learn to be on the
Optimists tend to have better self-esteem and are more
resilient to negative events. They use “positive thinking” as a
self-defense and self-motivation mechanism. They tend to raise their
expectations in order to get the most out their experiences and they
view disappointments as developmental lessons.
Optimists see life as an adventure, they tend to seek
new experiences, they are willing to try new things and meet new people;
this helps open a wide range of social and work opportunities
Positive expectations of others lead the
optimist to behave peacefully, openly, and actively which promotes
goodwill and similar reactions from others, thus falling into the
positive self-fulfilling prophecy.
Optimists experience unfortunate events
including disappointments, pain and loss, but hardly
stay with them. They recover much faster than the rest. They use these events as lessons and move on
immediately. Compared to other people, the intensity and frequency of
psychological stress in optimists is significantly less.
Their memories tend to filter out negative experiences and
sensations. Happy personalities become subjected to long terms of
joy and pleasure and
tend to develop strong mental and physical health.
They lead healthy lifestyles and have more fun.
Their expectations of most events in life
become high, their lives, for the most part, are filled with
excitement and joy and other people like to be around them.
In short, the
optimistic thinking pattern doesn't merely enhance good times; it causes
optimists to feel less stressful during life crises and it enriches
their personal and work relationships. In other words, it brings
happiness into their lives and the lives of the people they love. It
not a surprise that optimists tend to do better in most avenues of life.
Many optimists tend to justify their happiness
with good luck, but what they may not realize is that their fortune or
life events, whether good or bad, are less important than they think, and that their happiness
is a result of their own mindsets and thinking pattern.
Clarification # 1: Optimism should not be confused
with positive affirmations. Although this paper addresses pessimism and
optimism as its main subject, real transformation and happiness is not
the result of positive thinking alone or positive affirmation. Most of the time, positive
affirmations do not work alone and must be backed by progressive action
and reinforcing rewards. The keyword is
Clarification # 2:
Happy personalities are not irrational optimists. Irrational optimism
leads to high-risk behavior and falling into the modern life traps, such as
scams, drugs, crime or addictions. Like irrational cases of pessimism,
unrealistic optimism leads to personal and socioeconomic dysfunction.
We noticed that people who adopt a temporary
switch in thinking or actions from negative to positive, experience
temporary improvements in their reported happiness levels.
Correlation vs. Causation.
It became evident that optimism and happiness
are strongly associated with each other. However, the research could not
determine the cause and effect of optimism and pessimism. It is not
completely clear if the sources of happiness and unhappiness are rooted
in nature (genetics) or nurture (family and education). Unhappy
personalities appear to have been exposed to major childhood traumas or
early negative life experiences. However, we could not tell if it is
their own selective memory filtering other major positive historical
experiences. The degree and duration of the influence of past events
In some cases, optimism appears to be the effect not the cause
of well-being and in other cases, it appears to be the cause.
However, we could see how positive actions, risk
management, optimism, and happiness
reinforce each other. The same dynamics are true for pessimism, negative
actions, risk aversion and unhappiness.
Regardless of the number of positive and
negative events that a personality might experience, sustainable
emotional well-being, confidence,
resilience and happiness appear to be a direct product of optimism,
flexibility, continuous learning and improvement. Happy people, have
positive focus on opportunities, are avid life learners and adapt
quickly to changes in their environment. Unhappy people have negative
focus on risk, are inflexible, stubborn and highly resistant to change.
The key question here is: which group did you identify with the most?
Most people are somewhere in the middle. At different times of their
lives, they move between the two ends of the scale, from being mildly to
intensely pessimistic or mildly to intensely optimistic.
important is that with the knowledge of how your thinking is impacting
your life, you now have a new alternative. By choosing to lead a
happier lifestyle and continuously training your mind to think in
positive patterns, you can improve your emotional well-being as well as
the quality of your life experiences.
However, we believe, that only a permanent
change in lifestyle by creating a positive pattern of thinking and
actions can lead to a lasting change in your emotional health and
The solution we found is to adopt the following transformation system:
Re-examine your mind map, including negative conditioning and programming (outlook,
values, attitudes, associations, conclusions and belief system)
Be flexible to unlearn limiting or irrational negative
programing and learn new positive ones
Plan and build a
sustainable personal development and change management system (mental, physical and social) by
leading a new lifestyle to reinforce your learning and transformation.
In some cases, change of environment and/or relationships is
Sustainable emotional well-being, confidence and
resilience are the products of continuous learning and improvement. It's not as easy as it sounds; it
takes time and practice. Happy personality is not developed in a day; it
is a daily development activity. It takes time and effort but the
rewards far exceed the cost.
This case study is
based on a 1998-2001 qualitative and quantitative research that compared the differences
who reported frequent or prolonged states of happiness and unhappiness (vs. a
state of neutral or normal satisfaction).
Frequent or prolonged
states of unhappiness are defined as people who reported negative
emotions (such as stress, anxiety, depression, anger, etc.) for more
than 28 days in a period of one year. The same applies to states of
happiness, but with positive emotions (such as joy, pleasure, hope,
The study filters
out outliers on both the negative and positive sides. The subjects are
asked if they had a life-changing event (For, example, a major gain or
loss of income); as these events may skew the average numbers in one
direction or the other. Only candidates who have similar and relatively
stable lifestyles are included in the study.
population consisted of 100 middle-income individuals (61 male and 39
females) with ages ranging from 24-47.
The definition of happiness in the context of
this article is positive emotional well-being.
The author uses a non-scientific language for public outreach. A
conversational language helps connect with more people than
using a research report filled with statistics and scientific
jargon. Please contact us for more information about the
About the Author
Med Jones is the president of International Institute of Management, a
US based best practices education and consulting organization. The Institute development network includes 55 universities and research partners in 40
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Gross National Happiness
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