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Changing the Personality to Experience More Happiness

Can it be done and if so, how?

Key points

  • Evidence-based suggestions for altering one's personality include changing thoughts to manage anger and cultivating gratitude.
  • Some people need to understand the influence of the past to achieve true personality change.
  • Psychotherapy can lead to corrective emotional experiences and better relationships.

Researchers have addressed whether it is possible to change your personality to become a happier person. The thought is that if you can develop new habits in thought and behavior, you will change. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Actions that can alter your personality

Evidence-based suggestions for altering your personality and paving the way for a greater frequency of happy moments include:

  1. Fake it until you make it.
  2. Change thoughts and manage anger.
  3. Have a "gratitude" attitude.
  4. Do improvisation exercises.
  5. Get outside.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Volunteer.
  8. Sing or dance with a group.
  9. Meditate.
  10. Listen to music.
  11. Spend time in a setting you love.
  12. Have good, solid, abiding relationships.
  13. Have warm, brief moments of connectivity with associates.
  14. Engage in activities you enjoy that create flow.
  15. Watch films.
  16. Make things.
  17. Develop a practice—painting, writing, yoga.
  18. Do a community project.
  19. Get a pet.
  20. Take care of someone else.
  21. Tend a garden.

While these activities are certainly helpful, though, they may not be enough. Some people need a deeper approach to achieve true personality change, which involves understanding the influence of the past. When buried conflicts, fears, memories, and concerns are elucidated, understood, and processed, shifts in personality occur.

Benefits of psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy, also known as psychoanalytic psychotherapy or just psychotherapy, links past experiences to the present and can alter personality in lasting ways. People often say, “Why do I need to look at my past? I need help in the here and now for my anxiety or depression.” However, understanding how past experiences shaped you can relieve all sorts of present agonies.

Psychotherapy can create:

  1. Hope.
  2. Optimism and motivation.
  3. The capacity to tolerate vulnerabilities.
  4. Sublimation, or turning raw energy into refined expressions.
  5. Honest assessment that leads to true success.
  6. A corrective emotional experience.
  7. Better relationships.
  8. Better work experience.
  9. Less reactivity and more reflection.
  10. The emergence of authentic traits.
  11. Greater comfort in everyday living.
  12. Greater motivation and self-mastery.
  13. New perspectives.
  14. Enhanced creativity and healthy playfulness.
  15. Spontaneous thought and joy.
  16. Better concentration and focus.
  17. Relief from depression.
  18. Relief from anxiety.
  19. Courage to take risks.
  20. Adaptability.
  21. Tolerance.

Addressing inner turmoil in psychotherapy can also free one to engage in the life-affirming behaviors and practices listed above. One feels energized rather than depleted, able rather than inert. In psychotherapy, the therapeutic element may be insight, the relationship itself, feeling understood, being heard, free expression without fear of judgment, or all of the above.

Changing a personality is one way to look at it. Another way is to think of it as uncovering the “real-self” personality that is already there but was suppressed. With the right treatment, protective shields or defenses developed in childhood that no longer serve you can be dismantled to allow the spontaneous, vitalized, free being to emerge.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Shedler J. The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Am Psychol. 2010 Feb-Mar;65(2):98-109. doi: 10.1037/a0018378. PMID: 20141265.

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