If you visited the VIA Character Institute website (www.VIAcharacter.org) and took the free survey, you now have a personal profile of your character strengths. So what is it good for? You can now use this knowledge about yourself to improve your wellbeing and to become more resilient to life’s challenges. According to Dr. Ryan Niemiec at the VIA Character Institute, it all starts with the three E’s; your Signature Strengths (the three to five strengths that are listed at the top of your profile) are Easy, Energizing and Essential for you. These are the qualities about you that come so naturally that if you had to stop expressing them, you would not feel like yourself. When you are using these strengths, you feel a sense of vitality and engagement with the world. And they don’t require a lot of effort. For example, one of my signature strengths is curiosity. If you ask me to learn about something new, I’m all in. I’ll make a list of questions and get to researching. Using curiosity just comes naturally to me. And by using these signature strengths, we can shift our mood when we are feeling negative, and we can approach problems more effectively. Simply put, we feel happier and become more resilient by activating our Signature Strengths.
Let’s take a look at the first benefit of using our Signature Strengths – improving mood. Psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson is an expert in the study of positive emotions. She has discovered that when we experience positive emotions, we broaden our perspective and build personal resources for the future. This capacity for positive emotions to “broaden and build” can be simply stated this way: when we feel good, we function better, and when we function better, we feel good, and on and on. For more on positive emotions’s contribution to our wellbeing, see Fredrickson’s Positivity and Love 2.0.
So what does this have to do with character strengths? Well, using our Signature Strengths can shift our mood. Try this exercise: when you notice that you are in a negative place (angry, sad or frustrated, for example), first take the time to honor the emotion and to express it in a safe way. If the emotion is intense, crying or talking about the feeling may bring a necessary first physical release to the emotion. Then, look at your signature strengths and think about how you might use them in the situation at hand, or alternatively, as a way to put some distance between you and the problem. For example, if creativity is one of your Signature Strengths, how could you look at the situation more creatively? Can you brainstorm some creative solutions to the problem? Or try taking break to do something artistic or creative to let your mind ponder the situation in a more detached way.
After activating one of your Signature Strengths to combat negative feeling, you will likely find that you feel better. And when we feel better, we function better. That is the next benefit of using Signature Strengths: we problem-solve more effectively, which means things generally start to go better for us. By using strengths that feel good to us and keep us engaged, we stick with things, and persevere through challenges. And that is the name of the game for being more resilient. To learn more about building resilience, read The Resilience Factor, by Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatte.
As you explore your Signature Strengths, I would love to hear from you. Reach out to me at email@example.com.