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The surprising reason why reinventing yourself can make you less happy

The surprising reason why reinventing yourself can make you less happy
[Photo: Min An/Unsplash]

You might think twice before you morph into a motorcyclist or entrepreneur or artiste. A new study out of the University of Georgia finds that good ‘ole American reinvention is often a bad idea—because people who reinvent themselves often become less happy.

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“In American culture there is a notion that we have a lot of freedom, and that you can reinvent yourself, and that’s a positive thing,” says Brian Haas, associate psychology professor at the University of Georgia. “But are you better off? Are you happier than people who do not change? We found that it’s not the case.”

The researchers examined personality data from the U.S. and Japan, and noted that major identity changes over the course of several years were associated with plummets in well-being in Americans. This was not the case for reinventers in Japan.

The reason? Social webs. American individualism includes the freedom to choose new friends and partners, and leave your family and hometown behind. “That sense of freedom might mean we don’t need to keep those relationships in check, and that’s likely what is contributing to this effect,” says coauthor Michelle vanDellen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. “Americans do not need to be adaptable because we can just start new relationships or opt out of them easily.”

In Japan, social webs are highly valued and thus more flexible, adapting to major shifts without severing relationships.

Underlying this is a difficult truth to swallow about Americans: We value consistency, and poorly tolerate big identity changes. You’ve likely seen this in your own life, when you become single or coupled or a student or a parent, and friends disappear.

You heard it here first: You may quickly find yourself “growing apart” from your peers when you show up in that pink mohawk.

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