Character Strengths and Endurance
from Laurent Hasson
written at 2009.08.05_10.56.53 in New York City, USA
viewed 2170 times: 1 comments.
Theano Coaching, sends regular newsletters about things that interest her. One recent post grabbed my attention. I love taxonomies (blame it on my scientific training) and categorizing classes of human behavior. You'll understand quickly why i enjoyed this post.

Character Strengths and Endurance

My 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.

 A 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 red).

Wisdom
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgment
  • Perspective
Courage
  • Bravery
  • Persistence
  • Authenticity
  • Vitality
Humanity
  • Love and be loved
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence
Justice
  • Citizenship
  • Fairness
  • Leadership
Temperance
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self-Regulation
Transcendence
  • Appreciation of Beauty
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humor
  • Spirituality

 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 results.  

Why 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.

What useful things have been learned from character strength research?
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 Workplace
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 irrelevant.

Creativity examples

I can translate my  intuitions about behavior into strong user interface designs

I am able to explore and throw away what doesn?t work.

  

Bravery
Examples

I find joy in challenge ? give me the impossible!

I am tactful yet fearless when I ask people questions.

Social intelligence examples

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.

  

Judgment &
Open-
mindedness examples

I look at things from various perspectives

I do a lot of deep thinking about all the perspectives I hear.

Leadership
examples

I am good at facilitating good relationships in my groups

I am good at controlling the plan.

I help people on my team make better choices.

  

Authenticity
examples

I am good at giving honest opinions. 

I elicit honest opinions from others that are great contribution to quality products.

Serenity in Winter

A 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 Niebuhr.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
... 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).  

One common 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.

Dragonfly in Central ParkToo 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.


Summary

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.

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From kerlyn on 2009.09.18_00.06.56 in