Most people seek a life filled with meaning, contentment, gratification, and pleasure. We strive to reach society’s milestones of success – a college graduation; marriage; family; job promotion; buying a home – but these achievements don’t always bring us the happiness we expected. And although we’re successful by world standards – able to drive nice cars, live in large, clean houses, and have access to entertainment – many of us still experience higher levels of stress.
Pushing ourselves to achieve ‘bigger and better’, we reach another goal only to find that it too doesn’t bring us the happiness we hoped for. We discover that money doesn’t buy us the happiness we thought it could. Sometimes this cycle leaves us feeling just the opposite – depressed or anxious or angry. However, recent research has focused on how a person can work toward a happier life.
Identifying Your Personal Strengths
Martin Seligman and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania base ‘Positive Psychology’ on years of research into what makes people happy. They have concluded that happiness is an internal experience based on staying true to one’s genuine or authentic self. In other words, when we can use our strongest abilities, or “signature strengths”, we have a chance to feel genuinely happy.
They have identified the following twenty-four signature strengths that are found in cultures across the world. Identify the two or three that suit you best. To work toward authentic happiness, try to see how you can incorporate these strengths into your daily life experiences.
1. Curiosity / Interest in the World.
Curiosity suggests being open to experience and flexibility in dealing with ideas that do not fit your preconceived notions about the world. Curious people not only tolerate ambiguity well, but they seek it out and are attracted by it. Curiosity implies an active involvement in learning about new information, not just a passive interest in new things, and it is the opposite of being bored.
2. Love of Learning.
This strength refers to the strong enjoyment of learning new things, and it implies that you seek out learning wherever you can find it – through reading, taking classes, going to museums – even when there are no external incentives for you to do so.
3. Judgment / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness.
This trait refers to thinking things through based on solid evidence. You examine all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion, and you are able to change your mind in the face of new information. The opposite of this strength is seeking out information only if it conforms to what you already believe.
4. Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts.
This strength refers to an ability to find novel ways of achieving your goals, as long as they are appropriate. It means finding new and creative ways to get what you want, and not going through conventional routes to get there.
5. Social, Personal and Emotional Intelligence.
People with social intelligence are those who can read the moods, needs and motives of other people and can respond appropriately. It does not refer just to being introspective – it also implies being able to engage in socially skilled behavior. Personal intelligence means being tuned into your own feelings. You are able to put yourself into situations that bring out your best abilities, such as a job where you do what you do best.
This strength is similar to wisdom. It implies that others draw on your experience to help them solve problems and gain perspective for themselves. It means having a way of defining the world that makes sense to you and other people.
7. Valor and Bravery.
This trait pertains to having the courage to face difficult situations or stand for your beliefs in the face of opposition or challenge. This is not mere boldness or rashness. It refers to the ability to face danger, despite fear, without the loss of dignity.
8. Perseverance / Industry / Diligence.
Perseverance means being able to finish what you start with a positive attitude. You do what you say you’ll do. It does not refer to obsessively pursuing unattainable goals or perfectionism. Rather, it implies flexibility and a realistic approach to finishing projects.
9. Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty.
You live your life with genuineness and authenticity. You are down to earth and let others see your true self. This is more than just telling the truth. It means showing the world who you really are without pretense.
10. Kindness and Generosity.
This strength involves doing good deeds for others, taking their interests as seriously as your own and acknowledging the worth of other people. Empathy and sympathy are related to this trait.
11. Loving and Allowing Yourself to Be Loved.
This trait implies an ability to form close and intimate relations with other people, and to choose people who feel the same way toward you. While some people can show love to others, this trait also implies the ability to let others love you in return.
12. Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty.
You are a loyal, dedicated member of groups and can always be counted on to do your share. You are able to put the interests of the group above your own, respecting the authority of the group.
13. Fairness and Equity.
This trait involves your ability to treat people equally and fairly regardless of your own personal biases. It implies that you are able to give everyone a fair chance and that you are guided by principles of morality.
A good leader is effective at organizing the activities of people, getting the group’s work done while maintaining good relations between group members. This person maintains a humane approach when dealing with group members, as well as in coordinating activities between groups.
This characteristic involves the ability to hold your impulses and needs in check; regulating your emotions when things go bad, and maintaining a positive attitude when faced with difficult situations.
16. Prudence / Discretion / Caution.
This strength implies an ability to be careful. You avoid saying things that you might later regret. You are more aware of long-term goals and their consequences rather than going for short-term gain.
17. Humility and Modesty.
Humble people do not seek the spotlight. They let their accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not define yourself as special, realizing that your life victories and defeats are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. You are unpretentious and others recognize, and admire, you for this quality.
18. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.
You are elevated by beauty, excellence, and skill in all domains. You are able to appreciate the awe and wonder of life all around you – in nature, art, science, and little, everyday things.
You are aware of what is good in the world and you don’t take these things for granted. You appreciate the good in people and their accomplishments, as well as in nature. You take the time to count your blessings, and you show this in your actions.
20. Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness.
You have a goal-directed life based on your expectation that you will achieve the best for yourself in the future. Your optimism helps guide you in planning and working hard to achieve your goals.
21. Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiosity.
You have strong beliefs in your attachment to something larger than you are. You search for your place in the universe, and these beliefs both mold your actions and serve as a source of comfort for you. You feel that your life has purpose and meaning.
22. Forgiveness and Mercy.
You have the ability to forgive those who have done you wrong. You are guided by mercy rather than revenge, and you always give people a second chance. You are kind and generous rather than avoiding or retaliating.
23. Playfulness and Humor.
You enjoy laughing and bringing lightness and fun to other people. You are able to mix work and play, and you, and others, appreciate your ability to lift others out of seriousness and into humor.
24. Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm.
You are true to your spirit. You approach life with passion and energy and you can enthusiastically throw yourself into activities. You feel inspired by the mere act of living life to the fullest.
You can explore your own “signature strengths” by taking the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths”.
Finding happiness and identifying character strengths can be challenging. It often involves dedicated time for self-examination and personal reflection. Seeking the help of a professional therapist can make this effort easier and can help you address the natural roadblocks many of us can encounter while we do this work.
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