Character strengths are integral to the science of Positive Psychology and are an important component of The Shipley School’s Positive Education framework. As part of Shipley’s commitment to Positive Education and the well-being of our entire school community, we celebrate a different character strength each month of the school year. So, what are character strengths and why are they important? Here are 10 things we think you should know about character strengths and how they can help all of us (students, teachers, and parents) to flourish.
Character Strengths are based on science.
In the early 2000s, Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson, and a team of scientists researched and compiled a list of 24 character strengths and 6 virtues. The list was published in the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification—a source regarded as the “backbone of the science of Positive Psychology.”
Character Strengths are universal.
Character strengths are the positive traits we associate with “goodness.” They are possessed by people of all ages, all over the world; have been appreciated through the ages by different cultures, philosophers, and religious traditions; and are displayed in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Character Strengths come in six flavors (or virtues).
Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge
Creativity, Curiosity, Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, and Perspective
Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.
Strengths of Courage
Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Enthusiasm
Involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition—external and internal.
Strengths of Humanity
Love, Kindness, Social Intelligence
Involve tending to and befriending others.
Strengths of Justice
Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
Underlie a healthy community life and are civic-focused.
Strengths of Temperance
Forgiveness, Humility, Carefulness, Self-Control
Protect against excess.
Strengths of Transcendence
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality
Forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.
Everyone possesses all 24 Character Strengths.
Although we all have all 24 strengths, we possess them to varying degrees. Each of us also possesses a group of signature strengths, which are essential to our unique identities and provide a feeling of authenticity, excitement, and invigoration when we use them. Our signature strengths are positive qualities that energize us, that we perform well, and that we choose often.
Character Strengths can change over time and depending on the situation.
While your five signature character strengths (see above in #4) can be trait-like and stay with you for a while, they can also shift over time and may change based on the situational demands of your life at any given moment. “For example,” says Michelle McQuaid in Psychology Today, “today the strengths of ‘Creativity’ and ‘Curiosity’ always rate highly for me, but over the last eight years ‘Zest’ will move up and down depending on how well I’m physically looking after myself.”
Focusing on strengths doesn’t mean you ignore weaknesses.
Psychologist Lea Waters says of strengths-based discipline, “We show [children] how to reach within to find the resources for change, rebound from setbacks, focus their attention on repairing the problem, and move in a more positive direction.” You can learn more about the strengths-based approach to discipline in this Lea Waters blog post, “Working with Weakness: 3 Ways to Effectively Confront Your Child's Weak Spots."
Character Strengths are measurable.
The VIA Character Strengths Survey was designed to measure the degree to which people display each character strength. You can register and take the online survey to see which character strengths you possess in greater quantities, and which ones you can strengthen. You can also learn to how spot your child’s strengths in this post on the subject by psychologist Lea Waters.
Character Strengths are related to well-being.
By helping children realize that they possess all 24 character strengths, we help them develop self-confidence and self-awareness. Studies have shown correlations between character strengths and well-being. You can read about one of them in this Scientific American blog post by Scott Barry Kaufman.
Character Strengths help us negate the Negativity Bias.
All human beings are born with a negativity bias—the phenomena by which humans give more psychological weight to bad experiences than good ones. In fact, some researchers assert that negative emotions have an impact close to three times stronger than positive emotions. By focusing on strengths and aiming to broaden and build what’s good, we can attempt to counteract the innate human bias towards negativity.
Character strengths have been shown to positively impact student performance in classrooms.
Dr. Jillian Coppley Darwish shares some examples of how teachers use character strengths in their classrooms. Psychologist Lea Waters shows us how positive parenting also has a positive impact on children’s academic performance.