One of the key concepts in Positive Psychology is character strengths. When Positive Psychology as a discipline first emerged, the purpose was to study human well-being and what is right with us. Very soon, there was a need for a common language and a way to measure the good in people. Professors Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson together with their team were pioneers in researching character strengths and many other scholars have followed in their footsteps, providing us with a strengths-based approach to living a good and meaningful life.
So what are character strengths? For the lack of a better word, character strengths can be seen as personality traits. Character strengths are internally motivating, meaning that we don’t need an external incentive to use them. Using our top character strengths is energizing and can help us experience flow, being totally absorbed in the activity at hand.
There are 24 character strengths and they represent 6 universal virtues:
Wisdom: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love of Learning, Perspective
Courage: Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, Zest
Humanity: Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence
Justice: Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork
Temperance: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation
Transcendence: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality
(VIA Institute on Character, 2020)
What then, makes these character strengths so powerful? There are so many reasons and I could probably write a series of blog posts on the benefits of focusing on character strengths. In this post, I decided to focus on two points:
1) Character Strengths Are Powerful Because They Take the Pressure off Fixing our WEAKNESSES
Something important to mention about the character strengths classification is that each of us is considered to possess all 24 character strengths, just at different levels. Your top 5 strengths are considered to be your signature strengths, meaning that these are perhaps the most natural ones to you. However, the last strengths in your profile are not considered to be weaknesses. They are strengths that you have perhaps used less, or that for some other reason are not the most natural ones to you.
I know what some of you might be thinking: “okay, so they are not my strongest points, why can’t we just call them weaknesses?” To be honest, this was my first reaction, too! Then I started thinking: what if I wanted to develop one of these lesser strengths? If I consider them weaknesses, something that I am not good at, how excited or motivated would I be to work on them? Not very excited nor motivated. But if I think that they are strengths that I have just used less, wouldn’t it feel more attainable and fun to develop them? 100%, in my opinion.
So character strengths are something that we can develop. We can find ways to work on a strength that is not one of our top ones, and we can become better at it. We could also consider how our signature strengths could help you compensate for a strength that is lower in our strengths profile. For example, Leadership is not at the top of my list, but I can still be a good leader and gain people’s trust by using my signature strengths of Honesty and Fairness.
To me, learning about my character strengths has been an eye-opener. It has shifted my focus from just trying to fix my weaknesses to using my strengths more deliberately for professional goals and also in my personal life.
2) Character Strengths Are Powerful Because They Help Us Understand Other People Better
Have you ever felt frustrated because your colleague’s work didn’t have the same visual appearance that you would have strived for? Or annoyed because your significant other keeps leaving the car keys in the wrong place?
In these situations, we might easily get critical: why were they so careless with the visual aspects? Why are they so unorganized with things? I think we can agree that this is not an ideal starting point for a conversation. But what if we approached the situation through strengths? We might say: okay, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is one of my top strengths and I would have done this differently. But my colleageue really used Judgment to consider so many different options in this report. Or, that is actually a more practical place to keep the car keys, my significant other must have used Creativity to come up with that. We might also consider that perhaps we feel frustrated in the situation because we are over-using our own strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, when a little bit less would be more than enough.
Seeing character strengths in others can help us understand better those around us. If we focus on their strengths, we can start the conversation from a better place. Over time, it can help us build better relationships with other people.
Focusing on character strengths is about shifting our mindset. It doesn’t mean that we would ignore our areas of improvement. We just decide to pay more attention to what is good about ourselves as well as about other people.
Are you curious about what your character strenghts profile might look like? The online survey is available through the VIA Institute on Character at: https://www.viacharacter.org
And if you are ready to discover and unleash your team’s superpowers, take a look at my workshops! 🙂
PS. If you do take the survey, remember that it is still just that, a survey. It can give you ideas and be a stating point for a conversation, but no survey is able describe your uniqueness 100% correctly.
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash