In a previous post, I discussed the significance of self-knowledge. Now I would like to focus on some of the forms of self-knowledge that may be especially difficult to acquire, and a few practical tips for gaining the sometimes elusive truth about ourselves.
Psychology professor Timothy Wilson notes that one area we are prone to be mistaken about has to do with our future. For example, middle-aged people predict that when they retire they will prefer novelty to familiarity regarding where they choose to live. Yet retired adults in familiar locations were happier than those who chose to retire and live in novel locations. They stated that living in a familiar place was more important to them than novelty. This shows that we may have trouble anticipating how our preferences will change in the future. People also tend to think that future losses will be more devastating than they in fact are when they occur.
I think these difficulties are to be expected. It is hard to know how certain dimensions of our personalities and preferences will change over time. It can also be challenging to predict how we will cope with the inevitable losses that will come to our lives.
Another area in which I believe we can find self-knowledge difficult to acquire has to do with our character. That is, many of us tend to overestimate or underestimate the goodness of our characters. We have a lot invested in this, if we care about morality and being a good person. It can be difficult to accept our weaknesses, and tempting to rationalize them away. Others rationalize away their strengths. In the next post in this series on self-knowledge, I will discuss some helpful insights from Aristotle about this, and his prescriptions for moral development.
Here, I will conclude with three tips from Timothy Wilson on how it is that we may come to know ourselves better.