As ordinary as we may feel, we each possess special gifts that make us unique. Gifts that if we were to acknowledge and apply to our lives would not only make us happier, but would provide us more satisfaction and well-being.
Positive psychologists (those that study the science of happiness) have found that knowing our strengths and using them in different ways increases our positive emotions and reduces our depressive symptoms. In other words, making the best out of our strengths makes us happier!
Our “signature” strengths are those natural abilities in which we excel. Virtues bestowed upon us that when maximized lead us to thrive.
Whether it is:
- Wisdom and knowledge through our love to learn, our creativity, our curiosity, our open-mindedness, and our perspective;
- Courage to be brave and authentic and to accomplish goals through our persistence and zest;
- Humanity to tend and befriend others with love, kindness, and social intelligence;
- Justice for a healthy community life through fairness, social responsibility, and leadership;
- Temperance through mercy, prudence, humility, and self-control; or
- Transcendence when we possess an appreciation for beauty, hope, gratitude, humor, and spirituality.
These are character strengths that science has found are valued by individuals across all cultures. Virtues that psychologists believe all human beings possess to a lesser or greater extent.
The problem is that most of us don’t even realize we have these gifts in our toolbox. Or if we do, we tend to underestimate them only to obsess over our weaknesses and shortcomings instead.
We focus too much on the negative traits we’re ashamed of. And fail to rock those that make us proud.
In the business world, leaders develop employees by providing “constructive” feedback on their areas of opportunity (a fancy term for weaknesses). In our relationships, we make sure to remind our partners of those areas in which they fall short, in an effort to help them improve. And as parents, we focus on educating our children by discouraging behaviors we find disappointing, hoping that will unleash the positive behaviors we expect to see.
But what if instead of spending so much time and energy on improving the bad, we cultivated the good?
Leaders can help employees grow by encouraging them to capitalize their strongest attributes. We can improve our relationships by reassuring our partners of the best qualities they possess. And we can better support our children by reinforcing what’s best within them and showing them how to take advantage of it.
This doesn’t mean that we should deny our weaker areas and give up on improving them. Weaknesses can hold us back, so we must take care of them as well.
However, our main focus should be on cultivating our strengths. We must get to know our greatest attributes and use them in the best way possible to enhance our life experience.
So how do you start? Here are two simple steps:
1. Identify your strengths. You first need to know what’s in your toolbox before you figure out how to make the best use of it.
Notice what comes natural to you. What makes you feel special and unique. Those attributes that make you rise above the crowd. If nothing comes to mind, please know that you do have them. You just haven’t taken the time to notice them.
I suggest you begin by taking the VIA Character Strengths Questionnaire. This is a scientifically validated survey that will help you start discovering all those virtues within you.
2. Apply your strengths. What good can they do if you don’t put them to use. Once you realize what your top strengths are, take advantage of them.
Think about the different areas of life in which you can apply them. Ask yourself: am I maximizing my top strengths or underutilizing them? Make sure it is the former.
For example, if it is spirituality, take ten minutes a day to meditate so you can use that sense of comfort in the face of adversity. If it is curiosity, try expanding your knowledge in different areas of interest to feel the exhilaration of exploring the boundaries of human knowledge. If it is persistence, set a challenging goal in which your dedication, focus, and patience will come in handy. If your kindness stands out the most, make time for altruistic acts that will add meaning to your life as you make a difference in the world.
Deploying your highest strengths will lead to more positive feelings, more engagement, better relationships, more meaning, and more accomplishments.
It will help you see yourself from a different perspective. A perspective in which your weaknesses are just small bumps in the road, while your strengths are a waterslide to lasting happiness.
Peterson, C., Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
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Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2014