How to Assess Character

jack nicholson in the shining

Looking for a new lover? Or a new boss. Or a new bossy lover? Business Partner? Want to know how your children will turn out? Want to know why some friendships last and others don’t? You need to do a wee bit of character assessment.

Our friends the psychologists can help us here. They say that there are six things to think about. Six traits that are pretty stable over time in any individual and these six make up our character.

So here goes…


Number one. Top of the list…intelligence. And it’s primarily genetic. There are two kinds of intelligence: controlled and spontaneous. Controlled intelligence is all about abstract thinking – it’s the stuff that all those tests try to measure.

Then there’s spontaneous intelligence. Have you ever had an insight into a problem or issue when you were not thinking about it? Yes? That’s spontaneous intelligence. Don’t worry if you haven’t experienced this. Really. Don’t.

Like pornography, intelligence can be difficult to define but I think we know it when we see it.


Number two is drive. Or capacity for success. It’s beyond mere hard work. It’s where the energy of hard work is accompanied by a sense of pleasure. It involves persistence and passion. Both of which require optimism, conscientiousness and independence of thought.

Again, I think we know this when we see it.


We need to have the capacity for happiness in order to be happy. Most researchers say that happiness comes from having a sense of purpose and feeling useful. But there’s a trap here. Society pushes a fake-happiness at us – a hedonistic happiness that is all about acquisition and consumption. This does not make us happy. This is not some ideological position. It’s an observed fact. Stuff doesn’t make you happy.

Happiness is a by-product of other things. An output. You cannot pursue it directly. Researchers seem to agree that happiness comes from the pursuit of meaningful goals (not from their achievement interestingly, from the pursuit of them). Needs to be the right goals of course. Making the shareholders rich usually doesn’t cut it.

You can often tell how happy someone is or can be by their propensity to follow their own beliefs and values, regardless of the criticism of others.   


This is about morality and empathy. How motivated are you to care when someone else is hurt? Someone you don’t know? This isn’t just touchy-feely fluffy stuff – the empathetic response is very important in the running of our world.

Without it, we would only stop bad behaviour if it impacted on us personally. We wouldn’t act for the greater good. There’d be no laws against things that most of us don’t experience. Like murder.  But there are many who have no empathy. They are only sensitive to what impacts them directly. They don’t see “outside of themselves”.


Friendship is about equality and reciprocity. Friendship allows you to grow because it acts as a support system. You are not alone. What people seem to like in others is kindness and assertiveness. A feeling that there is someone who will help when we need it and that they will stand up for us. If someone has long-term friendships that indicates that they are a person who can handle the, er…idiosyncrasies of others. A string of broken friendships indicates quite the opposite.


This is key. Not just for prospective lovers but also for bosses and business partners. This is not just about snuggling up under the covers. It’s all about the capacity for vulnerability and trust.

If someone cannot trust, they cannot make a true commitment and if they cannot commit you don’t need them.  

Intimacy is a source of balance for both parties and has been described as psychological security. And that’s worth having.

So there we have it…six aspects of character…

  • Intelligence
  • Drive
  • Happiness
  • Goodness
  • Friendship
  • Intimacy

How does that prospective bossy lover stack up now?


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply