“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.” [i]
Imagine you find a flower bud in your garden. You see the bud but are unsure what flower will unfold. If you have a predetermined expectation for it to be one flower versus another, such as a tulip versus a rose, you will be disappointed when the “wrong” one unfolds. You will focus on what’s wrong with it. In doing so, you may harm it and prevent it from reaching its potential. It will wither.
During these turbulent times, many of us feel as though we are withering, losing sight of our innate character strengths — unaware of our gifts. Often, our loud inner critic joins in the game by suppressing our confidence, amplifying fear instead.
But what if we could learn how to see and appreciate our and others’ strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses? How would that positively impact wellbeing, resilience, achievement, and life satisfaction? How might that help us rise to the challenges we face? Developing an awareness of these strengths helps us focus on what’s strong instead of on what’s wrong.
The Power of Positive Psychology
Using the science of positive psychology, we can now identify the strengths that define who we are at our best — the qualities that, when nurtured, can improve all areas of our lives. As hundreds of studies have now shown, people who express their character strengths tend to be less stressed, more engaged, more energized, and happier. [ii]
In my decades of coaching, I have yet to encounter a more powerful tool for increasing wellbeing and productivity. I’ve witnessed lasting, positive change when people come to understand and leverage their strengths while appreciating the strengths of others. All of this creates a positive upward spiral rather than a negative downward spiral.
Understanding Character Strengths
Character strengths are those aspects of our personality that reflect our highest self. Collectively, they are responsible for our greatest achievements and fulfillment.
Scientists have identified 24 strengths that are the basic building blocks of our individuality, psychologically speaking. They are positive traits that are beneficial to the self and others, leading us to positive emotions, greater vitality, and meaningful life activities. We thrive when we identify and flex our strengths. [iii] [iv]
Research is continually shedding light on our character strengths, including their four key characteristics. Character strengths are:
- Positive traits all humans possess.
- Universally valued in all cultures.
- Expressed in varying degrees. For example, one person may strongly express hope, whereas another person may moderately express hope but strongly express a different strength.
- Learnable. Anyone can learn how to express any of the 24 character strengths more fully at any time.
We aren’t born missing key character strengths — we just may not have focused on exercising a particular strength, causing it to atrophy. The key is developing an awareness of our strengths and using them optimally to boost our wellbeing. If we are conscious of our own strengths, we are more likely to recognize strengths in others, leading to more harmonious relationships, which are especially needed during challenging times.
Once we know what our best qualities are, we open up a vital pathway to engagement — at work, at school, in relationships, and through the peaks and valleys of life. We can learn to design our own future powered by our strong suits. [v]
The 24 VIA character strengths are categorized into six virtue categories as follows: