“People never change” is a maxim so commonly heard that it’s hard not to internalize—even though it’s far from a given. A recent study challenges that age-old wisdom, revealing that men and women really do evolve over time.
In the longest-running personality stability study ever conducted, researchers wanted to know how characteristics would change (or not) over the course of a lifetime. To do it, they took data from a study conducted years ago among 1,200 Scottish teens. The researchers then located roughly half of the original survey participants, and 174 were willing to complete the personality questionnaire one more time.
The 77-year-old participants rated the same elements of their personalities that their former teachers had originally characterized: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn. The researchers found “no significant stability” in any of those original six factors (or their underlying trait, dependability), over the 63-year study period.
While the study isn’t without potential flaws—the first survey was conducted by teachers, the second was a self-assessment, for instance—the results still defied the study authors’ hypothesis that personality would be relatively stable over time. Meaning? People really can and do change, especially as they work their way toward their twilight years.
This is good news. Humans are malleable creatures, not wired to one specific fate, so you can banish the notion that you’ll always have certain types of stress, never reach an ideal weight, or always have a fatal relationship flaw. It’s not true; growth is inevitable.
Here, psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD, details some of the positive ways that you’ll change in a lifetime.
5 Ways You’ll Get Better With Age
You’ll Feel Stronger in Your Beliefs
Younger people spend a lot of time worried about what others think of them, instead of what they think of themselves. “The older you get, the more set you are in your morals, values and beliefs,” she says. “Younger men and women are often driven by popular culture; social media is an in-your-face reality that you can never get away from.”
As you grow, you’ll have more time to solidify your place in the world instead of comparing your place to others’. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a break from social media now and then, spending more time with friends and family, reading, writing, or pursuing other creative and healthy hobbies.
You’ll Spend Less Time Worrying About Appearances
When you’re young, your body is changing rapidly—toward some apex of societal beauty that you hit in early life. It’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses, and exhausting to try. “At some point, everyone will get old, everyone will get grey, and everyone will have wrinkles,” Ivankovich says. “Older individuals have no choice but to embrace this, because it is a reality for them.”
Older people have the secret: It’s better to embrace these appearance-based changes than fight them. Change your perspective, and you’ll change your reality. In twenty years, you’ll be glad you made healthy choices to exercise and eat right—not worried about that extra five pounds you gained on vacation.
Your Relationships Will Become More Stable
When you’re young, relationships and friendships can often seem like a lot of drama. The ghosting. The breakups. The petty fights. The passive-aggression. “Older individuals are more likely to have been with their partner for some time,” says Ivankovich, not to mention settled in one area and created a stable group of friends.
While it’s fun to date, most people tire of the rollercoaster of emotion—something that will settle out as “the newness of your relationships stand the test of time, with trust security-building,” says Ivankovich. It’s smart to seek people who invest in you and work to gain your trust today, but also recognize it’ll only get better with age.
You’ll Relax Into Your Career (and Life)
It can take years, even decades, to figure out how you want to spend the majority of your waking hours. Younger men and women are encouraged to “play the field” in life these days, going to grad school, and career-hopping until they find a passion that fits. “Young people of today are also expected to perform and exceed all expectations,” says Ivankovich, which can take its toll on satisfaction.
Not only will you know your role at the office (or whatever path your career sets you on), but you’ll also have time for more fulfilling adventures. “Those who are aging are typically set in their career, and are considering what the road ahead looks like—including traveling, retirement, and more family time.” You don’t have to stop growing or learning, even after you’ve notched a degree or two, and hung up your career hat. Instead, you can explore other cultures that intrigue you, arts that expand you, and perhaps fun, new roles, like that of a grandparent.
You’re Likely to Experience Less Stress
It seems there’s angst at every stage of life, whether you’re a teen, a new parent, saving for college, climbing the corporate ladder, or saving for retirement. “Younger individuals still have so many major life situations ahead of them with their finances, relationships, career, children, and so on,” says Ivankovich. “These things, while exciting, still bring stress.”
Luckily, you’re also developing the wisdom, confidence and financial smarts to cope with it all— and perhaps the oldest among us have the least stress of all. “Aging individuals are seeing their children off to forge a path for their own lives,” Ivankovich says. “Because they’ve been around a bit longer, they are also more likely to have a more solid foundation on finances.” This will open the door to indulgences like “luxury items and vacations” that can be enjoyed responsibly with added “peace of mind,” says Ivankovich.
Although aging has a certain stigma, there’s actually a lot to look forward to as time changes your personality—and perhaps, most importantly, your perspective on life. The message: Embrace your age and all its unique experiences. After all, you only live each year once.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.