Psychologists have found that every single one of us has certain ‘signature’ (or ‘character’) strengths that describe the best of who we are. Through extensive research, they have found 24 universal character strengths, divided in six virtues. You can check out the list here.
What are strengths?
Thinking about strengths…
What are the qualities that you admire in your friends? What are the positive traits that draw you to them? Is it their bravery? Their honesty? What if you think about yourself? What strengths do you have that you value, or enjoy using? Try not to think about talents, like playing an instrument or sport; instead, think about the ‘goodness’ parts of your personality - the qualities you have that, when used, really show you at your best. Maybe you’re creative? Or really funny?
Strengths are the ‘goodness’ parts of your personalities- qualities that, when used, really show you at your best. These strengths are different from your ‘talents’ which are things you are good at, for example playing guitar or soccer or whatever is ‘your thing’.
We all have each of these 24 strengths, but to varying degrees. Our strengths are what come naturally to us, so when you use them you are at your best and feeling energized (rather than exhausted).
What are your top strengths?
Have a look at the list of the 24 character strengths here. Work out which ones might be your top strengths by thinking about which ones are ‘more like you’ or ‘less like you’.
To help you figure it out: think of times when you used those qualities. Did you feel like you were being true to yourself? Were you excited? Motivated?
- No strength is better or worse than any other.
- Character strengths are dimensional- it’s not all or nothing! Everyone has different levels of each of the strengths. So even the strength ranked last in your list might still at times play a part in your life.
- Your strengths are a part of your personality, but how much you use each one can change depending on what’s going on in your life.
The Values in Action Classification of Strengths has a list of 24 strengths that can be divided into six core virtues. To identify your top strengths, think about the ones that you most relate to; which ones best describe you?
List of Strengths
|Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge||Creativity/ originality||You are great at thinking of new and creative ways of doing things, or solving problems.|
|Curiosity||You are interested in and curious about the world and love new experiences.|
|Open-mindedness/ critical thinking||You think things through and examine issues from all angles before making any decisions.|
|Love of Learning||You love learning new things and being known for the knowledge you have.|
|Perspective and wisdom||You have a mature way of looking at the world that makes sense, so you can give other people good advice.|
|Strengths of Courage||Honesty/ Integrity||You are honest. You speak the truth and live your life in a genuine way.|
|Bravery||You are strong and courageous enough to deal with challenges and take on difficult situations.|
|Persistence||You finish what you start. You will work towards goals despite the challenges that you might face along the way.|
|Zest||You’re energetic and passionate about life. You throw yourself into everything you do.|
|Strengths of Humanity||Kindness||You are kind and generous and will go out of your way to do nice things for others.|
|Love||You value love and close relationships. You love others and they love you.|
|Social Intelligence||You have a good understanding of yourself and of other people. You have good insight into your own motives and moods and can judge the motives and moods of others.|
|Strengths of Justice||Fairness||You treat everyone equally and fairly.|
|Leadership||You have vision and are good at making things happen by organizing and leading people.|
|Teamwork||You work well in a group or in a team. You work hard for the good of the group.|
|Strengths of Temperance||Forgiveness||If you are wronged, you tend to forgive people for making mistakes.|
|Modesty||You don’t need to brag about your accomplishments. You let them speak for themselves.|
|Prudence||You’re a careful person. You think things through and consider all the options before you say or do things.|
|Self-Control||You have discipline. You can keep your feelings and actions in check when you need to.|
|Strengths of Transcendence||Appreciation of Beauty||You notice and appreciate excellence and the beauty around you. You’re one of those people who will stop to smell the roses!|
|Gratitude||You notice the good things that happen to you and you don’t take them for granted. You thank people.|
|Hope/Optimism||You expect the best for the future and you plan to achieve it.|
|Humour/ Playfulness||You like to laugh and to make other people laugh.|
|Spirituality||You have strong beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe.|
What are the benefits?
Figuring out what your strengths are and finding ways to use them more in your everyday life is a key way to amp up your happiness, wellbeing and success.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to focus more on our weakness than on our strengths. Instead of trying to use our strengths more, sometimes the focus is on what we aren’t doing well and trying to fix our ‘problems’; for e.g. your parents noticed you received a D in Maths but didn't pay attention to the A you received for English on your report.
It’s can be good to try to improve yourself, but if you only focus on what you don’t do well it can get you down and only gives half the picture of your abilities (and who you are!).
If you know your strengths, and put more emphasis on what you are good at you’ll be more motivated, capable, and up for life challenges. You’re also more likely to experience flow - that feeling of being at your best, being on a roll - because activities that give you flow are usually those in which you are using some of your top strengths. The combination of all these things mean that using your strengths boosts your wellbeing, happiness and success.
Where's the Proof?
A whole range of experiments, too many to spell out here, have shown the benefits of using your strengths. When compared to people who don’t focus on their strengths, people who identify their strengths and then use them more:
- Are happier, more confident1 , more resilient and feel better about themselves2
- Have more energy3
- Feel less stressed out4
- Are better at work, feel more connected to what they do5 and are more likely to achieve their goals6
- Are better when it comes to developing themselves, or growing as individuals7
Strengths Experiments: The happy news!
Using strengths makes you happier! A study done in 2007 revealed that people who used their strengths more in their daily lives were happier and more fulfilled than people who didn’t focus in using their tip strengths.1
Using your strengths reduces depression! One study in the US asked a selection of people to identify their top strengths and then use those top strengths in new and different ways every day. They found that the people who did this became happier and less depressed and that these improvements in mood lasted over time.8
strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2 (2),
2. Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2009) Strengths use as a predictor of well-being and health-
related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583-630.
3. Govindji, R., & Linley, P. A. (2007). Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for
strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2 (2),
4. Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., & Hurling, R. (2010). Use of positive psychological strengths
leads to less stress and greater self-esteem, vitality, and positive affect over time: A three-wave
longitudinal study and validation of the Strengths Use Scale. Manuscript submitted for publication.
5. Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between
employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of
Applied Psychology, 87, 268-279.
6. Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Wood, A. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R., (2010). Using signature
strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and
implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (1), 8-17.
7. Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., Smith, K., & Share, T. (2002). Personal goals and psychological growth:
Testing an intervention to enhance goal-attainment and personality integration. Journal of
Personality, 70, 5-31.
8. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress:
Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
How do you build it?
The first step is to identify your top strengths here (Read through the list of strengths, their descriptions and identify which strengths seem to best fit you). The results may surprise you; sometimes we don’t realize what our own ‘strengths’ are. This is because when something comes naturally, it may not seem like a special strength or something out of the ordinary. But they are! Strengths are things that you have, that not everyone else is capable of.
Once you have identified your top five strengths, find new ways of using them every day. When you are using your strengths, you are at your best, feel good in what you are doing and are able to achieve well. Below are some suggestions based on each of the different strengths.1 Click the hyperlinks below to go straight to your suggestions, or scroll through them all:
If the ideas below don’t inspire you (or you already do them), come up with different and new ways to use your strengths that suit you. The important thing is to challenge yourself and find new ways to approach life using your strengths.
- Create a drawing, painting, photograph or short film; or get involved in the school performance.
- Make a card for a friend.
- Think of new, creative ways to solve problems.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Little Miss Sunshine. When seven year old Olive learns she has qualified for the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant in Redono Beach, California she is ecstatic. Money is tight though and due to various logistical issues, the only way she can get there is if her entire household – her parents, her grandfather, her uncle and her brother – goes. As they head off on a 1287km road trip in their ancient yellow Volkswagon combi, the family goes through a whole heap of hilarious personal setbacks, requiring creativity and the need for family support.
- Try a new food you’ve never had before.
- Are any of your friends from a different culture? Ask them about it.
- Read a book or magazines on a new topic that interests you.
- Google something you've always wanted to know about.
- Watch a movie you wouldn't normally see.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Amelie. Amelie is curious about life and finds joy in the little things. She plays little pranks on people and returns missing items. Over time she realizes that reaching out to others and doing things that create fun makes her life a whole lot richer.
- More inspiration: The film, Big Fish. Ed Bloom's curiosity leads him into the most enriching and magical adventures. Without this attitude he never would have ventured out of his hometown where he was admired and respected. Instead he left, joined a circus, became friends with a giant, got shot out of cannons, fought a war, got married, robbed a bank, became a mayor and a travelling salesmen. He could never settle. His imagination is too big.
- Think about a strong opinion that you have from a different point of view; what is the opposing argument?
- Talk to someone who follows a different religion or culture, has different taste, or different view point to you. Really listen and try to understand where they’re coming from.
- Think about the last thing you did that you weren’t completely happy with. Brainstorm better ideas for the future.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Forrest Gump. It follows the life of Forrest Gump (as if the title didn't give that away), a man with low IQ who travels across the world meeting historical figures, influencing pop culture, and forming life-long relationships.
- More inspiration: The film, Remember the Titans. Back when the US still had segregation laws that separated blacks and whites, college football team the Titans became one of the first mixed teams in the country. This not only challenged the teammates who needed to work together despite their cultural differences, it also challenged the attitudes of their community, supporters and their friends. It took a leader like the team’s captain and coach to keep an open mind, free from judgment to carry the team through to victory.
- Learn and use a new word every day.
- Read a new book.
- Follow a global event through TV, newspapers or the Internet.
- Research a topic on google scholar.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Billy Elliott. Billy is eleven and lives with his father in a mining town in northern England. He takes boxing lessons for a while, but decides it’s not his thing and instead tries ballet. Even though his friends and family make fun of him for this, he persists with ballet. He improves so much he earns an addition at the Royal Ballet School, changing people’s traditional ideas of what boys and girls should do.
- Try to resolve an argument or disagreement you are or have been in.
- Think about what motivates you to make the decisions you make.
- Give advice (if someone asks for it!).
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Freedom Writers. A 23 year old teacher is given the tough task of teaching freshman English at a gang-infested school in Long Beach, California. The school is rough, and new wars between the students begin every day in dangerous hallways. When the students notice this outsider trying to understand their lives, they can’t help but be cynical and begin to resent her. Despite this hostile reaction, the teacher refuses to give up on her students, turning to unconventional means to break through to them and opening their word up to a whole new realm of possibilities.
- Catch yourself telling a lie; even it’s a small one. Try to stop yourself from telling small, white lies to friends and family. Make your list of lies shorter every day.
- Try not to get swept up in peer pressure when making decisions.
- Mean what you say! Try to act in a way that reflects what you say.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Erin Brockovitch. Erin is an unemployed single mother struggling to find a job until her own lawyer reluctantly hires her. Most of her co-workers find her off-putting at first, but while working there she stumbles across a scheme at a gas company that is making entire communities unwell. Her determination to bring out the truth results in one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history. Based on a true story.
- More inspiration: The film, Adjustment Bureau. Keeping promises is very important to David Norris. Even when all odds are stacked against him - the adjustment bureau, the media and the voting public - he shows great integrity, standing by his decisions, delivering honest political speeches and not letting anyone shift his morals or values. His final speech illustrates his brutal honesty when he goes off the script and says what he really wants to.
- Speak up.
- Do something that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. If you’re scared, give it a shot!
- Don’t be afraid to become friends with someone who might be a bit different.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Flint Lockwood is a terrible inventor. He has never really made anything of use. But when his town faces an economic crisis he decides to continue his inventing, aiming to create a machine that turns water into food. Despite the others kids at school calling him a 'nerd' and a 'geek' he shows great bravery throughout the movie in his ability to be himself. Not letting anyone convince him to give up.
- More Inspiration: The film, Drill Bit Taylor. Three new kids in school seem to have attracted two senior bullies. They call in Drill Bit Taylor to take them on, but quickly learn they'll have to be brave enough themselves if they want get rid of their bully.
- Make a list of things to do and do one thing on the list each day.
- Complete all your homework with out any interruptions – no phone calls, no emails, no facebook, no IM, no snacks.
- Plant some plants or vegetables. Tend them so that they grow.
- Write down some of your goals and plans and put them up around your room so that they can inspire you each day.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Pursuit of Happyness. 'If you want something in life go get it, period.'
- More inspiration: The film, The Hurricane. This is the true story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, an African American that ditched a troubled youth to become champion middleweight boxer. However, his dreams are shattered when he is wrongly convicted for murder and sentenced to three life sentences in jail. His persistence to prove his innocence lasts him decades in prison but his determination for justice would change more than his own sentence, it would change the lives of a whole generation of Americans inspired by his story.
- Think of ways to find an assignment exciting and engaging.
- Do rigorous physical activity that you’ve always wanted to do – bike riding, hiking, running, singing, dancing.
- Invite friends over, watch a comedy and have a good laugh.
- Celebrate your next accomplishment!
- Inspiration: The film, Mr. Magoriums Magic Emporium. Mr Magorium is a very old man, 243 years old to be exact. You wouldn't know it though; his zest for life is not even matched by the children that fill his toy store. His attitude is infectious and brings joy to all those around him. Except his tax man who lacks everything a toy store needs. The movie illustrates the beauty of a good imagination, a joyful attitude and zest for life.
- Do three random acts of kindness each week; secretly do something nice for a family member, a friend, or even a stranger.
- Visit someone you know who is in hospital or in a nursing home. Bring them something they’ll enjoy – flowers, music, food or books.
- Donate your time as a volunteer or start a project of your own to do random acts of kindness. Here are some examples:
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Pay It Forward. Trevor is given an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor presents the idea of paying a favor not back, but forward—If someone does something nice to you, don’t repay them, instead pay it forward by doing good deeds for three new people. Those three people will then each do three good deeds for three more people, and so on. Trevor's idea creates a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his teacher, but also in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.
- Accept a compliment without squirming. Just say “thank you”.
- Write a note to someone you love and leave it for them to find.
- Do something with your best friend that they really love doing.
- Tell your family and best friends how much you love them. Find different ways to show them.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Love Actually. Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their interrelated tales of love during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.
- More inspiration: The film, The Family Man. A fast-lane investment broker is offered the opportunity to see what it would've been like if he had have married his high school girlfriend instead of pursuing a career in finance. He wakes up to find that his sports car and girlfriend have become a mini-van and wife. The movie highlights the importance of love, family, connection and gratitude. His old life will never seem the same.
- If someone new joins your school or club, make him or her feel comfortable in your group.
- When someone annoys you, try to understand why he or she is doing what they’re doing.
- Notice when friends do something that is difficult for them and compliment them for it.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Driving Miss Daisy. An elderly widow can no longer drive so her son hires her a chauffer. Though she is unimpressed at first, over the years the two form and unlikely friendship transcending age, race and background.
- More inspiration: The film, Limitless. Eddie Morra, an out of work author, discovers a drug that can rapidly increase his intelligence, everything Eddie's read, heard or seen is instantly organized and available to him. Watch how his social interactions and interpersonal skills sky rocket. Not only can he understand people better, but people understand him. He uses this social intelligence to meet new people, network, win back his girlfriend and rise to the top of a big stockbroking firm.
- Listen to other people without interrupting them.
- Admit it if you’ve made a mistake.
- Try to include other people in group activities or conversations.
- Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper about an important issue.
- Volunteer for an organization that campaigns for human rights.
- Stand up for someone who is being treated unfairly.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, The Hurricane. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter is an African American that ditched a troubled youth to become champion middleweight boxer. However, his dreams are shattered when he is wrongly convicted for murder and sentenced to three life sentences in jail. His persistence to prove his innocence lasts him decades in prison but his determination for justice would change more than his own sentence, it would change the lives of a whole generation of Americans inspired by his story. His fight for fairness inspired others to fight for the same justice.
- Organise a get together with your friends, or a surprise party for a friend.
- Go out of your way to make a new student feel welcome at school.
- Lead an activity, assignment or project at school, seeking help from other group members. Encourage people who don’t usually speak up to share their opinions.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, The Power of One. The Power of One is an intriguing story of a young English boy named Peekay and his passion for changing the world.
- Play a team sport.
- Work on assignments or homework with your friends. See how you can help each other.
- Start a social group for people with the same interests.
- Inspiration: Check out Friends of Mind. It's a social group for people with the same interests.
- More inspiration: Check out the film, Friday Night Lights. The true story of a heroic high school football team, The Permian High Panthers, in the economically depressed town of Odessa, Texas.
- Even more inspiration: The film, Remember the Titans. Back when the US still had segregation laws that separated blacks and whites, college football team, the Titans became one of the first mixed teams in the country. Amongst the controversy this carried, the team would have to work together despite their cultural differences. They'd be required to not just work as a team on the field, but also off the field.
- Let go of a grudge.
- Write a forgiveness letter. You don’t have to send it, but read it to yourself each day for a week.
- If someone hurts or upsets you, try to understand things from their perspective, then think about whether your reaction is hurting them or you.
- Inspiration: Check out the TV show, My Name is Earl. Earl is a low-life who buys a winning lottery ticket, only to get hit by a car, losing the ticket in the process. He then realizes in the hospital that his bad luck is the result of karma in which fate punishes him for all the rotten things he's ever done in his life; therefore, he then decides to dedicate his life to making amends to all the people he has hurt in his life. He’s search for forgiveness leads him into some sticky situations but also leads him into some very rewarding experiences.
- Don’t talk about yourself for a whole day.
- Think of something that a friend does better than you and compliment him or her on it.
- Concentrate on really listening to other people rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.
- Admit your mistakes and apologise to other people.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Beastly. Kyle thinks he is God's gift at his high school. His arrogance is his most visible characteristic. That is until Kendra casts a spell on him to teach him some humility. She makes him as beastly on the outside as he is on the inside. He’ll have to learn the value of modesty, humility, true friendship and love if he is return back to his normal self.
- Think twice before saying anything. Do this at least 10 times a week and notice the effects on others.
- Next time you need to make a big decision, consult with other people. Weigh up the pros and cons.
- Visualise the consequences of your next five decisions. Consider the impact each decision may have tomorrow, in one year’s time, in 10 year’s time.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Sense and Sensibility. When wealthy Mr. Dashwoood passes away, he lives his son rich, but his second wife and her two daughters struggle financially. As the daughters attempt to find love, they discover that hope for a better future gives them strength to deal with setbacks.
- More inspiration: The Film, Back to the Future. Marty McFly, a typical American teenager of the eighties, is accidentally sent back to 1955 in a time machine. He quickly learns that what ever he alters in the past can drastically change his present life. He is forced to make sure his parents fall in love so he can assure his existence in the future. Every action has a reaction, he must make some critical decisions and, with mad scientist Doc Brown, carry out some well thought out plans to save himself and the McFly family.
- Start an exercise program and do it every day for a week.
- Try not to gossip about friends or other people.
- Next time you get upset, try to think realistically about the situation. Have you overreacted?
- When you need to focus on your next assignment, try to remove any distractions – phone, internet, TV, magazines – until you get it done. If the assignment is really big, break it down into smaller tasks with breaks in between.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, The Karate Kid. If Dre Parker a popular kid from Detroit, is going to face up to the school bullies in his new home in China he is going to have to learn to discipline and protect himself. Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) a kung fu master teaches him that defeating his enemies will require more than punches or physical violence, it will take maturity, calm and self control.
- Visit a gallery.
- Take photos of the beautiful things you see.
- Stop and notice objects of beauty – sunrise, sunset, clouds, street art - as you go through your day.
- Decorate your room. Hang a favourite picture, paint the walls, put up photos of your friends, or maybe create a space to chill out.
- For your next assignment, focus on presentation as well as content.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Click. A workaholic architect finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life but when the remote starts to control his life he desperately tries to give it back. His experience brings a greater appreciation for what matters in his life, the beauty of his surroundings, the importance of family over work and that without gratitude for the present, he’ll never be happy.
- Make sure you say thank you to people through the day. Acknowledge the little things that would usually go unnoticed, as well the big.
- Create a blessings journal - Before going to bed each day, write down three things that went well during the day, or check out Thank Tank.
- Write a thank you letter to someone you appreciate.
- Set aside time each day to savour an experience. For help or ideas, listen to the Amplify tracks on Power Up.
- Reminisce about good times – recognition you received, an achievement, praise, a connection to someone.
- Inspiration: Listen to Neil Pasricha give a Ted talk about all the amazing things in life.
- More inspiration: Check out the film, Click. A workaholic architect finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life but when the remote starts to control his life he desperately tries to give it back. His experience brings a greater appreciation for what matters in his life, the beauty of his surroundings, the importance of family over work and that without gratitude for the present, he’ll never be happy.
- Even more inspiration: The film Mr. Poppers Penguin. Tom Popper is a property investor that spends little time with his kids. When his neglectful father dies, he inherits an unusual fortune- six penguins. His life is turned upside down and his bid to buy New York’s oldest building suffers. However he gains something much more valuable, a new chance to connect with his children, his ex-wife, and his true self. He realises that being the best property investor in the city is nothing compared to being the best dad to his own children, and that everything he wanted was already right in front of him.
- Write down 3 goals and your plans for achieving them.
- Think about a time in your past when you overcame a difficult situation. Store it in your memory and bring it to mind next time you face a hard time. If you’ve gone through it before, you know you can do it again.
- List all the bad things that happened to you over the past week. Now write down the positives that came out of those things.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Good Will Hunting. Will Hunting works as a janitor at MIT where he is discovered by an award-winning professor for his natural ability with math. This discovery leads to conflict between friends and associates, but Will’s hope that he can improve his future allows him to face his obstacles with strength.
- Make at least one person smile or laugh each day.
- Watch something that makes you laugh out loud!
- Surround yourself with funny friends.
- Remember the things you loved doing as a young child –dressing up, playing games, going ice-skating - Why not do them now? Be playful.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Patch Adams. Patch Adams commits himself to a psychiatric ward at a hospital and finds joy in helping his fellow patients. Disturbed by the staff’s mechanical approach to their patients, he enrolls in medical school in an attempt to change the system by bringing a mix of medicine and humour to the work.
- Try meditation. For help, listen to some Power Up tracks.
- Read a book about an aspect of spirituality that you might be curious about.
- Get to know people of different religions.
- Inspiration: Check out the film, Eat, Pray, Love. Despite having everything a modern woman is ‘supposed to’ want – a husband, a house and a good career – Liz Gilbert finds herself lost, confused and unhappy. She risks everything to change her life, embarking on a spiritual journey and a quest for self-discovery.