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The Simple Guide to the Happy Personality

In a lot of mystical systems, like Ch’an Buddhism and much of Hinduism, the first thing you do is a lot of meditation to realize you aren’t what you think you are.

In Hinduism, the phrase is “neti, neti,” which means, “not this, not that.”

The process is simple, put your attention on a sense object you think of as yourself (a thought or feeling in the body) and ask yourself, “If this wasn’t here, would I still be me?” Do that a lot.

After a while it becomes clear that there is no sense object that is required for you to be you. They need you to exist, you don’t need them.

One of the most important of these clusters of sense objects is your personality. Your personality is just a bunch of reflex thoughts and emotions; it’s very highly conditioned and if you spend a lot of time paying attention to your thoughts and emotions something odd tends to happen: You become very bored with your personality, because it is SO predictable.

You also realize it isn’t you.

The reason spiritual systems spend a lot of initial effort on getting to this realization is that once you realize your personality, or body, or thoughts, or emotions, or whatever, aren’t “you,” you can deal with them objectively. There’s no need for shame, or pride, it just is what it is.

With that realization, you can start to work on it.

The most important ability for changing your conditioning (and personality is mostly conditioning, the rest is the body you’re percieving, but there’s a lot of feedback between the two), is indifference or equanimity. The way your body/brain works is that if you react strongly to something, it figures “Hey, this is important, I should keep doing this/bringing this up until it isn’t important.”

React less, or not at all, and pretty soon the body is like, “Huh, guess this isn’t important, so I won’t bring it up so much or as strongly.”

If you want more of something, on the other hand, lean into it, react more emotionally and strongly. The body will decide it’s important.

To learn indifference, do a simple meditation where whenever you feel an emotional reaction you try to just observe it. Do this over and over and over again, and eventually, even fear will bore you (this is not just theory, I’ve done it, though not with everything).

Before you do this, however, let’s lay out a bit of personality architecture theory.

Assuming you want to be happy, what matters is that the personality likes itself, and respects itself. Some personalities just think they’re aces, and that they are worthy of respect. What people respect and like can be very different — perhaps it’s always keeping your word, or perhaps it’s being kind, or perhaps it is being rich or powerful or strong and taking no shit. Perhaps it’s being smart. Perhaps it’s being good at manipulating people.

Whatever it is, the problem comes in if you tend to do something, or “be” something and you don’t like or respect people like that. Perhaps you were raised in an anti-sex church but you really like sex. You can either carve your personality to like sex less or to not judge itself for liking sex. (Yes, both are possible, though you may have a stronger biological sex drive and that may make it harder. Generally, though, getting rid of guilt is wiser.)

So when you’re changing your personality, a large part is either getting rid of parts you don’t like (through indifference and pointing at something else) or you’re getting rid of not liking that part of you.


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When doing this you have to take into account the social circumstances you live in. If the people around you despise a characteristic you are de-guilting, it’s going to be very hard for you because most of us are effected by people around us: we want them to like and respect us and if they don’t it’s hard for us to like and respect ourselves.

The three solutions are to change who you spend time with; to decide to conform; or to change your personality to not care what others think.

The last is the hardest and it also deprives you of a great deal of emotional support, support which is very powerful and useful. Generally, figure out who the people are who would respect the person you want to be and arrange to spend time around them. Or perhaps, look at who you respect and like and become someone they like and respect.

If you decide to go full iconoclast, it’s the same as any other personality change: when people disapprove OR approve of what you do, or who you are, don’t care. Be indifferent. Don’t get angry and push back or preen under a compliment, just treat their opinions, words and actions as completely meaningless.

Be thoughtful when changing your personality. The first rule of all spirituality is “know thyself” and if you don’t spend enough time doing that, you may change your personality in ways that are more harmful than good, or that you wind up not liking because you didn’t actually understand the personality you already have.

That said, with some biological exceptions (babies have personality), much of what you think is you, isn’t, and you can change it. Even things that seem biological can be tuned: for example, there’s a lot of evidence that happiness has a set point. But, yeah, you can move that set point higher or lower, it just tends to be a lot of work (most of it comes down to learning when to give a shit. Stressing is the cause of a ton of unhappiness.)

Your personality isn’t you. If your personality doesn’t like or respect itself, you can change that. You don’t have to be unhappy.




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  1. A very powerful phrase for me is, “This isn’t about me.”

    Upset about (maybe) fraud in the presidential election? “This isn’t about me.” Relax. Live my own life.

    Distraught that there is famine in the Ukraine? “This isn’t about me.” It’s bad, and if I can do something about it I will, but…

    Hunter Biden is corrupt and a thief? “This isn’t about me.” He does what he does. None of my business.

  2. Eric Anderson

    Given the profound links between emotion and memory formation, I given to think there must be a trade-off for emotional regulation gains bought via meditation.

  3. Purple Library Guy

    So we’re supposed to perceive that our personality is not us and is boring . . . and the important thing about this is that it will help us manage our personality so that we can become someone we like better/respect more?
    This seems contradictory. And I’m not sure I buy this account of what personality IS; it seems to me to leave out a fair amount of stuff I would consider part of personality.

    Which is not to say that it can’t be consciously changed, at least somewhat. Or that the method described couldn’t be effective. But that doesn’t mean your personality isn’t you–it just means you can change yourself. The assumption here seems to be that if your personality is “you” that means you can’t change it . . . I don’t see that that follows. The secondary assumption is that whether your personality is “you” or not, if you make yourself believe it isn’t then you will feel more capable of making changes because it will be easier to be dispassionate about something you’ve identified as “not-you”. That may well be, but that doesn’t make the useful belief TRUE.

  4. Funny how some things stick with you down through the years …
    … for example the twelve step motto “Keep It Simple. [stupid]”
    Enlightenment is best cooked over-easy, don’t take things so seriously.
    It is what it is. Not necessarily what makes you “happy”.

    May be, maybe not; as it may, or may not, be …
    … we shall see what we shall see, shant we?

  5. Joan

    I really enjoyed this post. At this point in my development, journaling has been very fruitful because I can go back and reference how far I’ve come, whereas sometimes I make great gains in meditation but I eventually forget about them and sleep them off (though my subconscious might integrate them while I sleep).

    At this point, I can see the first glimpses of realization that I am not my personality, because I can look back at earlier entries and see the gradations of whether I’m in the throes of a mood and such. My personality seems thicker or less so depending on what I wrote that day. It’s tough because physical sensations such as pain are really snarled up with all this, and in these early stages, I find them inescapable. If I’m in pain, it’s almost guaranteed that I can’t stop the mood and thoughts that come in reaction to that pain, unless the pain goes away of course.

    One thing that is fueling this self-reflection is I have a friend on whom I have projected my Jungian Shadow. I have such a visceral reaction to the way she lives her life (and she doesn’t care two hoots what I think about it!) that examining my reaction to her has yielded a lot of hints about my Shadow.

  6. GlassHammer

    You know a shallow attempt at what Ian describes above is often done by Christians who are seeking to reconcile their bad actions with their faith. (For the record I used to do this too.)

    “God knows I am not my actions”,
    “God knows it’s not the real me”,
    “God is working to improve me”

    I bring this up because if you going to do what Ian describes you really need to make an earnest effort and sustained effort. If you go about in a shallow and lazy way there is a good chance your going to simply lie to yourself about who you are.

  7. AB

    One of the most important of these clusters of sense objects is your personality. Your personality is just a bunch of reflex thoughts and emotions: it’s very highly conditioned and if you spend a lot of time paying attention to your thoughts and emotions something odd tends to happen: you become very bored with your personality, because it is SO predictable.

    You also realize it isn’t you.

    At a more subtle level, you realize that it’s not even YOUR personality. It’s just a bundle of thoughts and emotions arising spontaneously, without any tie to an owner or controller. There is no separate, independent entity who “has” a personality, and no one who could possibly change it. 🙂

  8. Eric Anderson

    Hey Stirling, inquiring minds like to know about these things. Why am I just stumbling on this thru Carlos Mucha?

    I’m can see I’m going need to set some time aside to do some catch up reading.

  9. Eric Anderson

    Ok, here is a serious question and a bit of a mind bender, Ian.

    Must one’s “personality” must be predisposed to re-creating itself prior to setting out to re-create it? In other words, does the chicken personality have to precede the egg of transformation?

  10. anon y'mouse

    there appears to be a base level personality that we are born with. every mother, and most developmental psych people agree on this.

    add parental attachment or lack thereof and you get some of this nearly automatically, and it is programmed at such an early age that it becomes the operating system. most of it is not conscious, nor intentional. rectifying it is either impossible, or takes a lot of tricks. the tricks you are putting up there seem to be akin to cognitive-behavioral therapy.

    it is a great error in our society to see everything one does, and others do, as consciously chosen and thought about. even “happiness” and other emotions.

    i personally find “happiness” highly overrated. happy self talk accompanied by ignoring negative things (even externalities caused by that person) is exactly what you find with the smug asshats that run our world. granted, i doubt Ian is recommending _that_ kind of happiness.

  11. Hugh

    If it works for you and helps you, do it. But with people there is almost never a one size fits all to anything.

  12. Robotpliers

    Eric Anderson:

    I actually put that blog together back in 2016/early 2017, right after Trump won. I was trying to explain some of Stirling’s ideas to online friends/acquaintances at the time, and tried to walk people through the basic conceptual constellations at different degrees of complexity. Most people I knew were completely shell-shocked at Trump’s win and I was trying to give them a bigger picture explanation of the forces at work. I haven’t really been checking or maintaining it at all the last few years, however. Rather surprised to see it pop up here randomly.

  13. Ian Welsh


    nah. Most people who do it just do it as part of a program of spiritual practice. You don’t have to change your personality at all, in fact going into it with no intent to do so is vastly superior. Changes will happen anyway, possibly even radical ones, but just observing is all that’s really needed in a lot of cases.

  14. Hugh

    On a happier note, I predict that Pete Buttigieg’s first act as Secretary of Transportation will be to change his personality by renaming his position to Samferdselsminister (that’s Minister of Transport in Norwegian). God jul, to yule and yule and yule.

  15. Ten Bears

    Wait – primary rivals appointed to cabinet positions do something?

  16. Eric Anderson

    Ugh … brutal weekend in the courtroom so, sorry for the slow response, and thanks for yours. I’ll dive in this weekend. Should be neat to see with what passes for 20/20 hindsight these days.

    “in fact going into it with no intent to do so is vastly superior.”
    I’m going to get some sleep before I attempt that koan 🙂

  17. Roxan

    we are mixing up character structure with personality here. Personality is what we are born with, largely innate, but can be changed some. Character is learned, and mostly relates to emotional reactions such as likes, dislikes, what makes us sad or mad. Even generosity v miserliness, is learned. Personality involves traits and talents, largely genetic.

  18. Eric Anderson


    I’ve tested ENTJ multiple times over the years. So has my Dad.

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