Positive psychologists have found that some of the happiest people on the planet are those who have discovered their unique strengths and used their strengths for a purpose that’s greater than their own personal goals or benefit. In wellbeing theory, there are 24 strengths that underpin PERMA.
These fall under the following six categories:
- Wisdom (creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective)
- Courage (bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest or enthusiasm)
- Humanity (love, kindness, social intelligence)
- Justice (teamwork, citizenship, fairness, leadership)
- Temperance (forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-control)
- Transcendence (appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality)
Interestingly, these six categories are valued in almost every culture.
Benefits of finding and using your unique strengths
Help improve your ‘pillars’ of wellbeing
Finding and using your strengths can contribute to all our ‘pillars’ of wellbeing (PERMA), helping us in:
- feeling more positive emotion
- feeling completely engaged
- finding more meaning
- achieving more in life
- fostering healthier relationships.
Overcome greater challenges and show resilience
Research has found that people who use their character strengths experience greater self-esteem and ‘self-efficacy’. In other words, they feel good about themselves and have the confidence to tackle bigger issues and problems as they arise in life.
Feel truly content
We can also use our signature strengths to achieve pleasure and gratification through the activities we enjoy.
Make a real difference
We can use our strengths to serve something greater than ourselves, creating a more meaningful life and helping others.
How can I find out what my strengths are?
Psychologist Martin Seligman tells us we all have our own signature strengths.
A signature strength has the following features:
- A sense of authenticity (feeling like ‘this is the real me’)
- A feeling of excitement when using it
- Learning very quickly when first learning or practicing the strength
- Wanting to find new ways of using it
- Feeling invigorated rather than exhausted when using your strength
- Pursuing projects that revolve around the strength
- Feeling joy, enthusiasm or flow whilst using it.
Using your strengths in new ways
Once you know what your strengths are, find a new way to use one or two of them. You can achieve more happiness and meaning in life by applying your strengths to everything you do and using them to help you overcome challenges.
It’s also great to realize and celebrate the character strengths in other people. Make time to cultivate and use your strengths in everyday life.
For example, if your signature strength is:
- kindness: find a way to help others in need like volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter, helping kids learn to read at a local school. Scientists have found that practicing kindness produces the most ‘reliable momentary increase in wellbeing of any exercise … tested’ (Seligman 2011)
- love of learning: enrol in a new course or start reading a new book about something that challenges you
- humour: start a blog with your best work; ring a friend and try out some new jokes
- creativity: jot down some ideas for a script or book, and start writing it; take pictures or make drawings and make them into something to give as presents
- hope: visit people in hospital, help with respite care, write to the local paper about something positive you’re hopeful about
- appreciation of beauty and excellence: walk somewhere new to appreciate nature, visit a gallery you haven’t been to in ages, start a new book group or film group
- leadership: coach your kids’ soccer team, rally your neighbours to achieve something for your community.
Think about how applying your strengths in new ways makes you feel afterwards, ask yourself:
- Did it challenge and engage you?
- Did you meet new people?
- Did you feel like you lost sense of time and self-awareness (flow)?
- Did you feel satisfaction or pleasure or enthusiasm?
- Do you want to do it again?
This article comes courtesy of the Black Dog Institute.