Character Strengths and Endurance
favorite explanation of positive psychology is in Martin Seligman's TED talk on YouTube where
he says that the field of psychology should be just as concerned with strengths
as with weaknesses, just as interested in building the best things in life as
repairing damage, and just as concerned with making the lives of normal people
fulfilling and nurturing talent as with healing pathology.
Language about Character Strengths
In order to be able
share information, psychologists learned that they needed a standard way to
refer to various mental illnesses. Enter the DSM 4, with precise definitions
that let physicians from Hong Kong to New York to Brazil share diagnoses and
understand each other's research. For just the same reasons, a large group of
psychologists contributed to a standard definition of character strengths
published in Character Strengths and Virtues edited by Seligman and
Peterson. Now when one researcher publishes results of a study on Gratitude or
Hope or Bravery, others can figure out what they mean.
How did they
select character strengths? Researchers studied religious and philosophical
texts and literature from around the world and across time to identify strengths
endorsed by almost every culture in the world and across history. Then they
analyzed each strength according to 10 stringent criteria. Here's the initial
list they produced, 24 character strengths organized under 6 virtues (shown in
- Love of Learning
- Love and be loved
- Social Intelligence
- Appreciation of Beauty
Exploring your own strengths
You may be
thinking, "But what do they mean by Bravery, Humility, and Social
Intelligence?" The easiest way to find out without buying the big book is to
explore your own character strength configuration. Go to the Values-in-Action (VIA) character strengths
test. It asks you 240 questions and then returns a profile of your strengths
from greatest to least, each with a short description. Don't think of your
least strength as a weakness -- some people are strong in all 24, just to
different degrees. Of course the list is just a hypothesis for you to consider
about yourself, but most people feel a sense of ownership of their VIA
does this language matter?
We live in a world
where people tend to focus more on correcting weaknesses than acknowledging and
applying strengths. Thinking about the VIA strengths is one way to change this
focus, not only for yourself but also for the way you see others. In the
classes I teach with Jocelyn Davis, we invite people to tell very short stories
about themselves at their best. Then others in the class discuss the strengths
they observed in the stories. Often they start by pointing out VIA strengths.
In the process, they get better at spotting the strengths in others by naming
what they see.
useful things have been learned from character strength
There's a positive intervention that consists of
taking the VIA strengths test and then intentionally using your top 5 strengths
in new ways for a week or so. In a placebo
controlled study, researchers found this intervention raised happiness and
decreased depressive symptoms for 6 months.
Why is the
VIA test available online for free? Researchers are collecting information, not
about you specifically, but about the incidence of strengths across geographies,
age groups, gender, and occupation. For example, they have observed that the
character strengths most highly correlated with overall well-being are
curiosity, gratitude, zest, love, and hope. These are character strengths that
can be cultivated with beneficial results.
Strengths in the
Does this language of strengths make sense in the
workplace? I've collected a number of examples of the way people in information
technology careers talk about their strengths. As the ones below demonstrate,
it is not hard to map the way people talk about their work strengths to the more
general VIA terms. These examples come from people who are good at different
parts of the process. Character strengths tend to be stable over time. When
people become aware of them, they can focus on leveraging them to full
advantage, rather than trying to change them. While coaching clients through
executive promotions, Jan
Elsner and Barbara Heileman have found that figuring out how to use VIA
strengths at work often makes previously identified weaknesses become
I can translate my intuitions about
behavior into strong user interface designs
I am able to explore and throw away what
I find joy in challenge ? give me the
I am tactful yet fearless when I ask
I am really good at mentoring other people
- helping them learn how to run the corporate maze.
I appreciate the diversity and differences
of opinion in the people around me.
I look at things from various
I do a lot of deep thinking about all the
perspectives I hear.
I am good at facilitating good
relationships in my groups
I am good at controlling the
I help people on my team make better
I am good at giving honest opinions.
I elicit honest opinions from others that
are great contribution to quality products.
Proposed New Character Strength: Endurance
This list of 24
strengths is a work in progress and over time will be augmented with a 25th,
26th, 27th strength. I recently proposed the inclusion of Endurance, the
strength that enables people to respond patiently to things they cannot change.
Endurance is exemplified in the Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I
cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the
... Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment
at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace
Endurance can be
duty faithfully shouldered. It can be pain or disablement patiently borne. It
can be acceptance of persecution without loss of self. Endurance can take as
much courage as facing opposition (one of the qualities included in the standard
definition of Bravery).
prototype of Bravery is the physical valor shown by warriors on the battlefield.
But what about the courage of widows and orphans who remake lives following the
loss of husbands and fathers on the battlefield? What about families that
welcome back disabled veterans of the battlefield and make new lives around
them? What about Penelope who endured year after year of uncertainty waiting for
Odysseus to return from Troy? A counterbalancing strength is needed to account
for these long-suffering, ongoing, and less dramatic forms of courage. Adding
endurance and its analogs -- such as serenity, patience, and acceptance -- to
the strengths of Courage broadens and balances the virtue.
Too much Bravery is rashness while too little
Bravery is cowardice. Similarly, a person with too little Endurance feels
victimized by the smallest inconvenience or pain while one with too much
Endurance is stoic to the point of failing to change what can be changed or
being victimized unnecessarily by others.
Psychologists have given us a standard way to talk
about character strengths that is based on many cultures. There are ways to use
our own character strengths to become happier. Using the language of strengths
is one way to become more aware and respectful of the strengths that other
people bring to work and home.