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Do You Want to Change Your Personality?

New research explains how the way you look at the world affects your character.

Key points

  • There are strong relationships between worldviews and character strengths.
  • Seeing the world as a good place is strongly related to character strengths.
  • Modifications of worldviews may be an important component of psychotherapy.

How is it that people who live in the same world experience life so differently? Certainly, much of our variety in personality styles and attitudes toward life can be attributed to genetics, temperament, environment, and experience—including adverse life events and life opportunities.

Nonetheless, individual differences have always fascinated me. I strive to understand why certain individuals remain hopeful, positive, and even curious about life despite all of the adversity they face. Consider a 45-year-old woman who has experienced trauma and was raised in a confict-ridden household. This woman seeks to gain knowledge about the world at every turn and travels extensively. Consider, on the other hand, her 46-year-old sister who sees the world as a threatening place after having endured similar experiences. Could it be that the way they view the world that has contributed to their willingness/unwillingness to explore and rejoice in it?

A recent study by Stahlman and Ruch (2022) published in the Journal of Positive Psychology helps to clarify why some individuals live with hope, zest, curiosity, and other lovely character strengths while others do not. The researchers measured the relationship between primal world beliefs (how people view the world) and character strengths. The sample comprised 1,122 German-speaking adults of German, Swiss, and Austrian heritage. Worldviews were assessed using the German Primals Inventory. Character strengths were measured by the German VIA Inventory of Strengths.

The results of this study provide rich and fascinating data. Viewing the world as good was most strongly related to the following character strengths: hope, spirituality, zest, curiosity, leadership, and gratitude.

Viewing the world as safe, enticing, alive, and fluid was associated with the following character strengths: curiosity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty, humor, and spirituality.

Finally, viewing the world as beautiful, funny, intentional, interesting, "needing me," pleasurable, and worth exploring was similarly associated with curiosity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, humor, and spirituality.

The most powerful and robust relationship was found between seeing the world as a good place and character strengths.

There are many takeaways from this research.

1. The results have direct implications for the therapy sessions we clinicians conduct. They indicate the value of doing careful evaluations of client worldviews. Examination and modification of worldviews may lead people of all ages to see the world as a hopeful and worthwhile place to be. Perhaps, resiliency can be shored up.

2. This research has implications for what might be a harmful parenting technique. Raising children with the message that the world is an unsafe place may lead to children developing a similar worldview which then leads to fear rather than curiosity about the world. This may also lead to a sense of hopelessness which is associated with depression. Perhaps, parents can be educated about the importance of raising children with a more balanced view of the world.

3. Finally, this study provides hope that we can reduce emotional suffering by helping others see the good in life. This is no small task but it is necessary.

We will also learn how best to work on these modifications. My belief is that this opens up many potential avenues to better mental health.


Stahlman,A.G. & Ruch,W.(2022) Primal world beliefs correlate strongly but but differentially with character strengths.The Journal of Positive Psychology.(1-11).