It’s long been known that the cells in our body replace themselves every seven to ten years, meaning our body is in a constant state of renewal. This knowledge brings hope. It means that we are essentially creating a new body, a new self, every decade. It means old wounds and sicknesses can be healed and forgotten if we tap into the right processes.
It turns out that it’s not just our cells that renew themselves. Our personality goes through a similar metamorphosis, with gradual changes accumulating over the years until the person we are in old age is very different from the one we were as a child.
A study that began in Scotland 63 years ago was recently published by the American Psychological Association in Psychology and Aging. Teachers were asked to evaluate a class of 14 year old students on a number of personality factors, including self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and a desire to learn. Decades later, at the age of 77, many of these same students were asked to re-evaluate themselves, and to also nominate a close friend or relative to do the same. Later, when the results were analyzed, researchers found very little overlap between the two personalities, indicating that our identities can change dramatically throughout our lives.
Some may find these results eerie and wrong. Despite an aging body, you may still feel like the same person. Memories from years past may still provoke the same thoughts and sensations. Friends and family may recall anecdotes from your past that match up with your current behaviour, showing how little you’ve changed.
But while some traits may remain the same, it turns out that others can change so significantly that there is little resemblance between what you are now and what you once were.
Buddhists have always claimed that there is no “you” or “me”, that our fixed existence is an illusion. It turns out, they were right. Like everything else in the world, our own personalities change, shatter, grow, and expand through the years, depending on the experiences we have had. There is no point in clinging to a rigid idea of who or what you are because the very essence of “you” is constantly evolving.
For anyone who has lamented their inability to change bad habits, or heal personal neuroses, this is good news. It is very possible to overcome emotional scars and become a better person. Keep fighting the good fight. Change takes time, but this study proves that it does happen.