The topic of strengths, specifically character strengths, is getting a lot of airplay these days especially in the fields of Positive Psychology, Positive Education and Business as well. Positive Psychology identifies character strengths as the 24 traits (derived from 6 common core) seen in human beings across cultures and time– that are universal to the human experience. These traits or strengths are values you embody that help make you who you are- they reside inside and are pretty stable over time. Researchers, educators, employers and now the general public are starting to realize that focusing and building on such strengths, rather than weaknesses, can make for a happier, meaningful life in which you are engage and living more optimally. Also, using strengths in times of adversity or conflict can also help us cope better with the situation and progress on to a resolution.
The VIA (Values in Action) Institute studies and assists people in identifying and using strengths– doing so for over a decade now. They offer online assessment tools — some are free– for individuals to discover their strengths so that they may use them in all aspects of their lives, from working and learning, to interacting and existing. Here are a few reported research findings taken directly from the VIA Website:
- Using one’s signature strengths in a new way increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
- The use of signature strengths elevates individuals’ harmonious passion (i.e., doing activities that are freely chosen without constraints, are highly important, and part of the individual’s identity). This then leads to higher well-being (Forest et al., 2012).
- Among youth, the use of signature strengths in novel ways along with personally meaningful goal-setting led to increases in student engagement and hope (Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011).
- A qualitative study examined the use of VIA strengths by women in the workplace and found that in all cases, strengths led to a “virtuous circle” in which the strengths use helped them overcome obstacles that had impeded strengths use. All subjects derived unique value from using character strengths at work (Elson & Boniwell, 2011).
- Employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a).
If you’re interested in identifying your strengths and taking the assessment tool, go to VIA Me. The test is 120 questions– and may take 10 or so minutes. They also have a free assessment tool for kids, to understand their strengths for the same reason; build them up to make life more happy and get through challenges more successfully. Both are free tools, with reports that follow that call out your top 5 strengths and introduce you to ways you can use them to get more from life.
I took the VIA Me test– 2 times this year. My findings did not change between those times, and they did not surprise me. My signature or top 5 strengths include love of learning, creativity, curiosity, appreciating beauty and excellence, and gratitude. What did surprise me was the suggestion to use those strengths in novel ways, and to use them to get through difficult times. It works… when met with some recent obstacles, I reflected back on my strength to figure out solutions. Especially the strength of creativity. I would ask myself is there a creative solution here? When I started to lose interest in something that has interested me in the past (like exercise routines), I used my strengths in new ways, and my interest returned (this relates to a term in positive psychology called hedonic adaptation… something we all do whether we want to or not–i.e. lose interest after a while).
I also had two of my children take the test (the 3rd will do so soon), and the results surprised me a bit. Knowing their strengths has helped me relate to them better; for I call out a strength when I see it and celebrate it. This kind of exercise not only helps me with being grateful that they possess such strengths, but it also helps them too… realize the strength and feel good about having that quality as a part of themselves– which increases self-esteem and happiness in general.
So, now that you know (in a nutshell) what strengths are, are you willing to give it a shot and check out yours? I’m telling ya, you’ll be glad you did!
If you’d like some help with this process or would like to talk more about it, just email email@example.com.