Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Defining Character Strengths

After two weeks I am getting back into the book Positive Psychology. Remember my post about the two focus areas of positive psychology? If not, let me refresh your memory. The two focus areas are; clarifying your values and growing your character strengths.

By now you should have a very clear vision of your values. You have written them down and confirmed them by asking your friends, family and enemies; you have thought about the three or four rubber bands you would keep or wear around your wrist and what they would say about you, and you have taken a look around your home, office, life and determined what your signs say about you. All three of these activities should have made you confident that the values you hold true are your reality. So, now what?

The second focus area in positive psychology is determining your character strengths. Notice the word character before strengths. Biswas-Diener and Dean, the authors of this book, describe the science behind this statement. Two research psychologists, Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, have studied what character strengths are and mean. Sorry to say being good at fishing, or lifting a lot of weight, or being able to work on pivot tables are not character strengths and although I may still try and improve these skills, character strengths go much deeper.

Peterson and Seligman established seven criteria that will help us determine and discriminate our strengths.
1.Strengths need to be manifest in a range of individual thoughts, action, or feelings
2.Strengths contribute to the good life, for the self or others
3.Strengths are morally valued in their own right in addition to the desirable outcomes they produce
4.The display of a strength by an individual does not diminish other people in the vicinity, but rather elevates them
5.Societies provide institutions and rituals for cultivating strengths
6.There are consensually recognized paragons of strengths – people can think of examples of virtuous individuals who seem to embody these traits
7.Strengths cannot be decomposed into other strengths

Well that makes sense, right? I will spend some time on this concept, the rest of this week, as I believe it is important for all of us to understand. First, let me put the seven into terms we can really understand from my interpretation.

1.Strengths are more than skills and abilities, they are part of your inner being, so again fishing, weight lifting and pivot tables are not character strengths.
2.Strengths cannot produce a negative outcome to you or others around you. “Stirring the pot” or putting yourself or others down are not character strengths.
3.Strengths must have a larger vision than a task or skill. They have an outcome. I have the strength of lifelong learning and want to continue to use knowledge to meet a higher vision.
4.Strengths are personally and society positive and work to build yourself and others up. The strength of civic involvement comes to mind here as it builds up others.
5.Strengths can be worked on through education, service, or other social events and actions. If you cannot grow and learn more about a strength, it is most likely not a true character strength.
6.You can think of people’s name that fit character strengths. If I say the strength of justice that means to support interactions among groups centered around citizenship, fairness, and leadership what names come to mind? Obama, Sandra Day O’Connor, Martin Luther King?
7.Strengths are larger than tasks, abilities, or values. A character strength is a summary of abilities, tasks and values. So I am creative, open minded, and curious, but those aren’t character strengths. The character strength would be centered in gaining knowledge. One of my character strengths is knowledge. I want to know why, how, when, what, and where. Always learning, questioning, growing in my knowledge – that is what a character strength is.

Okay, a lot to think about in one day so I am going to end here. Tomorrow I will share more “classifications” of strengths to further gain an understanding of how deep character strengths really are.

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