I confess to a fascination with psychological studies of personality traits. I don’t think there is a personality inventory I haven’t taken. I like them so much I developed one of my own with the help of my social psychologist husband.
My son introduced me to the “Big Five” or “OCEAN” assessment when he was pursuing his Ph.D. in psychology. Dating back to the 1930s, research studies identified five core personality traits. They are agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, openness to experience, and neuroticism. We all possess these traits, but the question is, where do we fall on the continuum within each category?
My other area of fascination is the process of aging (this pre-occupation is not exactly a surprise considering I’m turning 70 this week.) An Atlantic Monthly article referenced recent studies suggesting that as people age into their 60s, their personalities can change. The impetus for this change is circumstantial, as we come to terms with what is often a significant loss.
The loss of formerly functioning body parts; the loss of loved ones; or financial and lifestyle losses. We either succumb to these imposed changes or adapt to them. In later adulthood, there is often a decrease in openness, conscientiousness, and extraversion. Neuroticism can increase as we confront changes over which we feel we have little to no control.
According to Wiebke Bleidorn, a personality psychologist at the University of Zurich:
“What you really want to know is what are people’s lives like? If someone is no longer strong enough to go to dinner parties every week, they might grow less extroverted; if someone needs to be more careful of physical dangers like falling, it makes sense that they’d grow more neurotic.”
It’s the loss of control over elements of our lives that can alter our personalities. This varies widely, as some people adapt and are more open to change than others. I think we can cultivate the “openness to new and changing experiences” dimension of our personalities rather than allowing it to erode with our passing years.
And, donning my Creativity Evangelist hat, I think creativity and creative thinking can be the catalyst. Creativity is a way of thinking about and approaching many aspects of our lives and makes an excellent partner in our BBLB years (an acronym for Be Brave. Lose the Beige, my label for this chapter in our lives).
Creative thinking promotes openness and adaptability and offers buoyancy to hearts often laden with fear and worry. Creative thinking helps us regain even a little control as we navigate our aging journeys.
But it’s not made of magic. Snapping your fingers to summon creativity is not really a thing. There is a formula for developing this skill. (And remember, it’s never too late to start.)
First, you must recognize the value of creative thinking. Next, you must do the work by exercising your creative muscles, many of which have threatened to atrophy in the years since you were 10. And third, you must be open to whatever messages your creative brain whispers to you.
We tend to spend a good portion of our lives resisting change. We like our routines. They are safe and familiar. The stereotype of the grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn is an unfair indictment, but it may very well be a reflection of the frustration some seniors feel about the perceived and real lack of social support.
Dramatically changing one’s lifestyle is stressful and could justifiably lead to an altered personality. But organizations like the Neighbors Network in Central Florida help people age in place, allowing them to remain in their own homes.
Neighbors caring for Neighbors originated in Boston. Vetted volunteers help older adults with non-medical services, like household tasks and transportation. This “village” concept helps older adults stay active by coordinating recreational, social, educational, and cultural programs. These social activities minimize isolation and promote social interactions.
We are social creatures and need the comfort of each other more than ever as we age. Think about this. It is often costly to move into an independent or assisted living facility where these kinds of services are available. But remaining at home means having to climb ladders to change lightbulbs or dead batteries in smoke alarms.
Even though half of the people over the age of 85 live alone, the United States has not done enough to support their aging citizens. Studies show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 is considerable. Neighbors Network and other village models may just be an answer to this epidemic.
So yes, we can get grumpy and more neurotic as we experience the loss of limbs, life, and/or liberty, but we can still seize control where we are able. Creativity is an excellent co-conspirator in navigating the aging process, promoting openness and flexibility to the inevitable changes we will experience.
And we can ask for help from non-profit organizations like Neighbors Network that help us maintain our quality of life. Better yet, become a volunteer with this group and reach out to others!
Click here to take our KQuiz designed with the 60-plus age demographic in mind.
How many personality tests have you taken to date? Do you think your personality profile has changed since you have aged into your 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond? Let me know how.
Tags Getting Older