It’s true. Strength can create happiness. How typical for a gym to say that right? But perhaps it’s not in the way you might envisage. Do you know what your strengths are? I’m not talking about your muscles so stop peeking at your biceps. Rather I am referring to your behaviours, your innate characteristics, your thoughts, traits, actions and/or feelings, the things you know you do well. Strengths when we use them, immediately make us feel good, more positive, more upbeat and perhaps turn an average day into a great day. Our strengths engage us and they energise us.
The concept of utilising our strengths to lead a more fulfilling or happier life has come from the field of positive psychology which focuses on what is right with people rather than what is wrong with them. Researchers have identified that we can boost our happiness and flourishing by identifying our strengths and then actively trying to develop and use them more frequently in our day to day lives.
How do strengths make us happier?
Strengths are important because we are innately wired for the negative. Humans are very good at looking for what’s wrong, looking for flaws, problems etc. We can look for negative things very easily and bad has a stronger impact on us than good. For example bad feedback has a greater impact on us than good feedback; bad health impacts us more than good health; bad relationships impact us more than good relationships. Trashy magazines capitalise on this trait by publishing as much scandalous gossip as they can because they know people are attracted to it and will buy it.
So, knowing that we are wired for the negative, we need to balance things out a bit. But balancing it out unfortunately takes more than 1 good thing for every bad thing we experience. It’s more like a 3 to 1 ratio (ie to gain a balanced perspective on things we need to experience three good things to every bad thing).
It doesn’t mean we don’t look at flaws or bad things, but we should also look at what is right and good things.
Strengths are a language of goodness and of positive qualities in people. Therefore, identifying what our strengths are and then maximising our usage of them can lead us down the path to greater happiness and fulfilment. This concept is not just a creation of some pot smoking hippies as one might initially suspect, but rather ample research has clearly shown that actively working on our strengths can lead to a bunch of good stuff in our lives including:
greater self esteem
There have been 24 character strengths identified and we can see all of them in ourselves at some time or other. However, there will be a smaller subset of these strengths that can be identified as our Signature Strengths. These are the ones that come most easily for us and that we utilise most frequently. They are also the ones that give us the greatest boost when we use them. It doesn’t mean that the other strengths are unimportant and you can certainly work on developing them too. But your signature strengths are the ones that come easily, naturally and the ones you should try and incorporate into your day to day life as much as possible. A small caveat is warranted here – when identifying the signature strengths of both ourselves and others no one strength is “better” than the other. They are all equally virtuous.
The 24 character strengths are:
creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective, bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality
When you read through the list above there are likely some that you will identify with immediately. However, if you are interested in identifying exactly what your signature strengths are you can complete a free survey on the VIA Institute website http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey. For a few dollars you can also get a more detailed report on your signature strengths and how best to develop and use them.
It’s really powerful stuff and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding what makes you and others tick. However, if the pursuit of health and happiness is your goal then it’s certainly a concept you should consider exploring to be your best self.