This question has plagued humans for thousands of years. Socrates himself exhorted the people of ancient Athens to “know thyself” – an instruction still relevant today. Luckily for us, modern psychology boasts a seemingly endless supply of quizzes and questionnaires (known as psychometric tests) for just such a purpose.
I think it is fair to say that most people find the prospect of self-examination and awareness rather daunting, if they’ve stopped to consider it at all. But for those who wish to look deeper, understanding our own personality and motivations is a good place to start. This article will briefly discuss two such tests.
Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers began creating the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) during WWII. Based on the work of psychotherapist Carl Jung, the indicator measures personality type using four sets of dichotomies:
- Extraversion (E) or Intraversion (I)
- Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
- Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
With four sets of two options, there are 16 possible combinations of personality type. While they are not prescriptive, each of the four preferences and the way they interact with the remaining three, influence individual personality type. For example, the Myers Briggs Foundation website describes the ENFJ combination is described as being:
“Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfil their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.”
While this is unlikely to directly change an individual’s life, such knowledge can be used to better understand personal relationships and communication styles, worldview, career choices and opportunities for personal growth.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Centre (headed by the man commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Dr Martin Seligman) has developed a number of questionnaires* related to authentic happiness. Some measure gratitude, optimism and life-satisfaction, however the one I find the most fascinating is the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths.
Using multiple-choice questions, the survey measures how relevant each of the 24 values are in an individual’s everyday interactions. The results list all values in a hierarchy of strength – from those we possess and use the most to those we possess and use least.
For example, my top five values according to strength are:
- Creativity, ingenuity and originality
- Curiosity and interest in the world
- Judgement, critical thinking and open-mindedness
- Fairness, equity and justice
- Love of learning.
Again, this knowledge is all about gaining greater insight into why we make certain decisions and choices or have certain boundaries, expectations or priorities. In short, what motivates us.
So, can the combined results help us to answer Socrates’ question? I think humans are multi-faceted and continuously evolving, so I’m not sure it’s possible to ever fully know oneself. However, there is still merit to self-knowledge. Simone de Beauvoir explains this perfectly in her autobiography:
“self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it.”
How well do you know yourself?
*Note that this requires creating a user profile.
Photo credit: Wellhappypeaceful