Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Personality: What makes you the way you are" by Daniel Nettle

What determines your personality? Which is the best personality to have? Are you stuck with your personality, or can you change it?

Daniel Nettle looks at the science of human personality, exploring the rich variety of our natures, how they might have evolved, and how all personalities can be defined remarkably accurately against five simples measures. This book will make you look afresh at yourself and at those around you, and give you new insights into your own personality. It won't tell you how you should live, but it might just help you life life to your strengths.

What I thought would be an interesting book turned out to be far more clinical than I had anticipated. I think it took me nearly a month or more to finish this, and it's really only about 250 pages long (once you skip the notes and bibliography). In fact, I think the best part of this book is the personality test that the reader is encouraged to take before really getting into the meat of the book.

Here's what I learned after taking the test: my score of 8 on the Extroversion scale is considered medium-high. Not overly surprising to me, especially when I read that extroverts have a lot of "positive emotions" - something I already knew about myself. I scored a 3 on the Neuroticism scale, which is low; in this case, neuroticism isn't so much what we normally think of but rather an abundance of negative emotions. Again, not a surprise for me. And I scored a nice high 9 on the Conscientiousness scale, which would come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

What did surprise me was my score of 13 on the Agreeableness scale. It seems pretty high, right? But according to Nettle, it's not, since I'm female. It's a low-medium score. If I was a guy, it would be a medium-high score. Well, that just seems weird (and unfair) to me, as the chapter that discusses this trait is called "empathizers" - something that I definitely think I am. I'm still not entirely sure I understand why my score isn't considered better; again, think it's due to the dryness of the bulk of this work.

Finally, I scored a 9 on Openness, which is a low-medium. What, exactly, is the trait of openness? That's a great question, one I'm still pondering. The chapter is titled "Poets", and talks about what I consider to be artistic people. I'm not one of those people, even on my best day. I would have thought I would rate much lower on this scale, as I don't paint, write, sing, or do anything that I would consider to be "creative". I do read a lot, which might account for my score, as some people equate the "openness" trait with intellectuality. Nettle argues that your intellectual level is something that's more a physical thing, not an emotional thing. I don't really know.

Overall, I found this book boring. And I think what surprised me most was that, if I understood the author correctly, he believes that your personality is pretty much set at birth. I beg to differ. I know I am not the same person as I was 10, even 20 years ago; in my high school days, I was extremely shy and would never volunteer to talk to strangers on a daily basis, which is what I do now in library work. I was also a lot more of a pessimist, and today I'm very much an optimist. Also, I look at my husband, whose personality is almost completely different than it was just a few years ago. He had a near-death experience (or as he puts it, circling the drain with intent); he's certainly much different now than he was before his illness, much calmer. Before he got sick, I affectionately referred to him as "my curmudgeon"; now he's the one telling me to keep my chin up, that things aren't as bad as they seem. Talk about a 180! In my humble opinion, a person can change his/her personality. And therefore, I think that's why I didn't get much from this book.

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