Leveraging Your Strengths

Video presentation of this page

The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power or goodness.

-- Martin Seligman, American psychologist, educator, and author.

Research studies show that particular character strengths are linked to important components of individual and social well-being, and suggest that using your character strengths can benefit you more than focusing on and attempting to heal your weaknesses. That being said, both approaches are complementary so it is important to consider each when trying to achieve a fulfilling, resilient life.

There is growing evidence that identifying and using your character strengths will guard against the negative effects of stress and trauma. So why not spend a few minutes learning the Universal Language of character strengths. Please begin by taking a look at this "24 Character Strengths" graphic (click on it to see it as a high-resolution PDF.)

Jot down the top five strengths (in blue capitalized text) that apply to you. These are your "Signature Strengths." Keep in mind, that it does not mean the others are your weaknesses -- and that, as needed, you can make adjustments in the future.

Now watch the video below titled, "A Universal Language That Describes What’s Best in Us." When you are done, come back here and do the following steps, which have been excerpted from the Greater Good in Action website:

  1. Think about one of your personal strengths — for instance, creativity, perseverance, kindness, or curiosity. Consider how you could use this strength today in a new and different way. For example, if you choose the personal strength of perseverance, you might make a list of tasks that you have found challenging recently, then try to tackle each one of them. Or if you choose curiosity, you might attempt an activity that you’ve never tried before.
  2. Describe in writing the personal strength you plan to use today and then act on it as frequently as possible throughout the day.
  3. Repeat the steps above every day for a week, using the same personal strength across multiple days. Or try using a new strength every day.
  4. At the end of the week, write about those personal strengths and how you used them during the week. Write about what you did, how you felt, and what you learned from the experience.

When you have completed these tasks, you have done what is called a "Strengths Intervention."

A Strengths Intervention is a process designed to identify and develop strengths in an individual or group. Interventions encourage the individual to develop and use their strengths, whatever they may be. Their goal is to promote well-being or other desirable outcomes (e.g. academic efficacy) through this process.

Effects of a Strengths Intervention on General and Work-Related Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Positive Affect (Meyers, M.C., van Woerkom, M., 2017.)

A Universal Language That Describes What’s Best in Us - Ted Talk by Ryan Niemiec

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is a leading figure in the education, research, and practice of character strengths and in positive psychology/well-being. He's an award-winning psychologist, international workshop leader, and bestselling author of Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners, Mindfulness and Character Strengths, and The Power of Character Strengths.

Signature Strengths Studies

Identifying and leveraging your signature strengths has been shown to provide numerous mental health benefits including an improved sense of well-being. Here are a few studies cited by the VIA Institute of Character.

A randomized, controlled trial involving three groups - adults who targeted the top five strengths, adults who targeted the bottom five strengths, and a placebo group. The two intervention groups showed an increase in overall happiness for up to three months as well as a decrease in symptoms of depression. Those with initially higher strength levels tended to benefit more from working on lower strengths while those initially lower in strengths levels tended to benefit more from working on higher strengths. (Proyer et al., 2015).

In a study examining the link between signature strengths and well-being among thousands of adults, the best predictor of well-being was having signature strengths be perceived as valued and recognized by others (Blanchard, Kerbeykian, & McGrath, 2019).

A review of 18 experimental strengths studies (including but not limited to signature strengths) found that all types of strengths interventions had positive outcomes, which included well-being, work engagement (and other workplace outcomes), personal growth, and group/team benefits. Mediators and moderators were also explored (Ghielen, van Woerkom, & Meyers, 2017).