Before you can tell me whether you know your “signature personal character strengths,” you have to know what signature strengths are. That will take just a little ‘splainin.
A (Very) Brief History Of Psychology
Traditionally, psychology has focused on mental health problems, on psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, phobias, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
However, over the last 20 years, or so, a new branch of psychology has developed called positive psychology.
Instead of focusing on psychological disorders, positive psychology empirically studies the strengths and virtues that can make us happier and more fulfilled.
What Are Personal Character Strengths?
Psychological disorders have their own manual. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or “DSM,” enumerates and describes the psychological disorders.
Positive psychology needed a manual of its own, a catalogue of the virtues and strengths that help us to flourish.
To meet this need, positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman have developed their Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook (CSV).
The CSV is the positive psychology counterpart to abnormal psychology’s DSM. It classifies positive human strengths.
Seligman and Peterson have identified 6 virtues that exist in virtually all cultures and have existed over time. And they have broken those virtues down into 24 character traits, or character strengths.
Here are the 6 virtues and 24 character traits identified by Peterson and Seligman:
- 1. Wisdom and knowledge: cognitive strengths related to accruing and using knowledge.
- • Creativity: thinking in novel, productive ways, with originality or ingenuity.
• Curiosity: interest in experience for its own sake, openness to experience, finding things fascinating.
• Open-mindedness: thinking things through, not jumping to conclusions, having good critical thinking and judgment.
• Love of learning: enjoying learning and systematically organizing experience; also surfaces as love of teaching others.
• Perspective: being able to make sense of the world to oneself and others, having wisdom.
2. Courage: emotional strengths that involve the will to accomplish goals in the face of external or internal opposition.
- • Bravery: not shrinking from challenge or pain; speaking up, standing up for convictions.
• Persistence: finishing what you start and getting it out the door.
• Integrity: presenting oneself in a genuine, honest way, taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.
• Vitality: feeling alive and activated, with zest, vigor, and energy.
3. Humanity: interpersonal strengths, tending and befriending others.
- • Love: valuing close relations.
• Kindness: doing good deeds for others, nurturance, compassion, and altruism.
• Social intelligence: being aware of motives and feelings of others and oneself.
4. Justice: civic strengths that would foster healthy community life.
- • Citizenship: working well with a team, loyalty, social responsibility.
• Fairness: treating people equally, not swayed by personal feelings.
• Leadership: encouraging your group to get things done while maintaining good relations.
5. Temperance: strengths that protect against excess.
- • Forgiveness and mercy: not being vengeful; giving others a second chance.
• Humility: not seeking the spotlight; modesty.
• Prudence: farsightedness; being careful about choices.
• Self-regulation: controlling appetites and emotions.
6. Transcendence: strengths that provide meaning and connect with a larger universe.
- • Appreciation of beauty and excellence: notice and appreciation of nature, performance; able to experience awe and wonder.
• Gratitude: being aware and thankful for the good things that happen and for life itself, accompanied by warm goodwill.
• Hope and optimism: expecting the best and believing a good future is something you can help bring about.
• Humor: playfulness, enjoying laughter, making people smile.
• Spirituality: coherent beliefs about the higher purpose in life and connection to the purpose and meaning.
How To Identify Your 5 Top Personal Character Strengths
To measure and compare personal character strengths, Seligman and Peterson created the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
Also known as the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS), the test consists of 240 statements, 10 each about the 24 character strengths. A typical statement would be something like this: “I never quit a task before it is done.” (Presumably, this is one of the 10 questions that measures persistence.)
You mark whether each statement is “very much like me,” “like me,” “neutral,” “unlike me” or “much unlike me.”
Including registration, the questionnaire took me about 25 minutes to complete.
If you have a half hour, go here to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You will see that this page has a number of different positive psychology questionnaires. Scroll down and click on the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” and you will be taken to the questionnaire you want.
As soon as you finish, you are given the results.
Based on your answers, you are told which 5 character strengths you exhibit most strongly. In positive psychology, these are called your signature strengths.
Then, you can review how you rate (measured against yourself) on the entire list of 24 character strengths.
How To Use Your Signature Strengths To Improve Your Life
One theme of positive psychology is that, instead of focusing on improving the character traits on which you are weak, you should concentrate on using your strengths. You know, accentuate the positive.
In your work life, personal life, social life and in every other way, you should try to find ways to utilize your strengths, they say.
For example, if you score high on the character strength of creativity, you might want to rethink your rote assembly line job. Or, if you excel at integrity, but you work in an industry or with people that don’t, it may be time to post your resume at monster.com.
Positive psychologists believe that living in harmony with your signature strengths will lead to more happiness and fulfillment.