Character strengths are positive traits that are vital for living a good life. They exist in all cultures, have moral worth, and manifest in a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. According to Peterson & Seligman (2004), the 24 universal character strengths, grouped by six core virtues, are:
- Wisdom: Creativity, Curiosity, Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective
- Courage: Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest
- Humanity: Love, Kindness, Social Intelligence
- Justice: Loyalty, Fairness, Leadership
- Temperance: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Control
- Transcendence: Awe, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality
Character strengths increase well-being through a healthy sense of fulfillment, authenticity, and self-esteem. Hope, curiosity, zest, perseverance, and love are particularly positive.
Yet while possessing character strengths is required for living a good live, using them is what truly boosts happiness. In a new study, Zhang & Chen (2018) found that “strengths use mediates the relationship between character strengths and subjective well-being.” Hence the importance of realizing your potential.
Are you using your strengths? Merely thinking about your strengths doesn’t do much. You must display them in your actions! Here’s how:
- Determine your top three and bottom three strengths. (If you need help with that, you can take a free test here.)
- Make a six-week plan by assigning one strength to each week:
- First week: strength #1
- Second week: strength #22
- Third week: strength #2
- Fourth week: strength #23
- Fifth week: strength #3
- Sixth week: strength #24
- Every week you focus on the assigned strength and on finding ways to use it in your daily life. (For example, if your “strength of the week” is humility, you look for ways to exercise humility throughout your day.)
- Every evening you write down how you displayed your strength that day. (For example, if your current focus is on open-mindedness, you may write, “Today I listened closely and earnestly to someone whose opinion I don’t respect” or “Today I spent 20 minutes steel-manning the position of a person I find morally disgusting.”)
- Pay attention to how your character subtly improves and how much better you feel about life.
I’m doing this myself now, too. My top three strengths are love of learning, open-mindedness, and perspective (interestingly, they’re all in the wisdom category), whereas my bottom strengths are humor, social intelligence, and kindness (much to improve here!). I’m feeling motivated about this little challenge, and it’d be great if you, too, would give it a try. After all, the worst thing that can happen is that you learn something about yourself. Then again, I might be biased by my #1 strength.