Character strengths

What’s it all about?

Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson and their colleagues studied three millennia worth of religious and spiritual scripts in order to answer the question: What makes a life worth living? Their research culminated in the identification of 24 universal (across time and cultures) character strengths, grouped into six overarching virtues. The virtues and the character strengths of each follow below:

Wisdom

  • Creativity: Ingenuity, out of the box thinking, problem solving
  • Curiosity: Eager to know more, inquisitive
  • Judgment: Critical thinking, able to identify potential problems before they arise
  • Love of learning: A thirst for knowledge and enjoyment of the process of learning
  • Perspective: Wisdom, being able to see the big picture and / or various angles

Courage

  • Bravery: To experience fear and act despite it, to stand up for what you believe in, to express your opinion even if it may be unpopular
  • Honesty: To speak the truth and value integrity
  • Perseverance: To keep going despite obstacles
  • Zest: Zest for life, energy, liveliness

Humanity

  • Kindness: To care for and consider others, to assist and support others
  • Love: To value giving and receiving love and to give and receive love with ease
  • Social Intelligence: To be aware of and understand the emotions, thoughts and reactions of others

Justice

  • Fairness: To treat others fairly and equally, to not discriminate
  • Leadership: Naturally taking the lead or being expected to take the lead, guiding a group towards their goal
  • Teamwork: The ability to collaborate meaningfully with others

Temperance

  • Forgiveness: To forgive others, to not hold a grudge
  • Humility: To be modest / humble, to not value yourself above others, not seeking to be the center of attention
  • Prudence: To think before you act, to be careful and consider all options before making decisions
  • Self-regulation: Self-discipline, to do tasks and meet responsibilities even when you may not feel like it

Transcendance

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence: To notice and appreciate the beauty around (often in nature) and / or to appreciate great skill (in ability or performance)
  • Gratitude: To feel gratitude for many things and to express your gratitude
  • Hope: To believe good things are to come, to expect positive outcomes, realistic, but also optimistic about the future
  • Humour: To enjoy laughing and making others laugh, to see the lighter side of things, often provide comic relief in difficult situations
  • Spirituality: To believe in a purpose greater than yourself, feeling a sense of purpose in the greater scheme of things

So, what’s the big deal? Why are people going on about character strengths? To be blunt, us humans are programmed to focus on the negative. Mr. Caveman would not have survived if he gaped at the beautiful sunset while the lion stalked him. We are programmed to protect ourselves from danger, and by default, this means that we are more prone to noticing the negatives than noticing the positives. And why is this a problem? We tend to notice, that which we repeatedly get exposed to, or that which we repeatedly think about, far more. For more on this, please refer back to my post on Choose your lens and also the post about the evolutionary function of positive emotions (From Surviving to Thriving).

Character strengths not only give us something positive to focus on, but it also gives us something to help us overcome life’s challenges. In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about the crux of the matter: how to USE character strengths. For now, the next step is to figure out what your top 5 character strengths are. I can highly recommend the scientifically validated and free online test at http://www.viacharacter.org (click on “Take the Test” and follow the instructions).

Once you know you’re strengths, we can start talking about and practising the skills that go with them.

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