No matter how you slice it, you have 24 unique characteristics that make up your good character. These 24 “power tools” help you build relationships, finish work tasks, explore hobbies and, ultimately create a happy, well-balanced life. For each person, these strengths come forth in a different order and degree, but everyone can review their list of strengths and pull out 6 “types” of strengths that they can focus on and cultivate.
Here I will present these six types of character strengths, offered in descending order, starting with those with the strongest research evidence, and include an idea for using each type.
1. Signature Strengths
These are the character strengths that are most central to who you are and best capture your uniqueness. Think of these strengths as your three E’s: they are essential (the strength is essential to your personality), energizing (you feel a boost of joy or energy while using the strength), and easy (the strength comes naturally to you to use, you don’t have to think about it). These are the strengths that come up highest in your VIA Survey results profile. Studies are showing that using these strengths in new ways is associated with long-term happiness and less depression.
What are your signature strengths? How might you bring forth one of them right now?
2. Happiness Strengths
Across several studies in different cultures, a handful of character strengths repeatedly emerge as most correlated with life satisfaction, a type of happiness (and have also been shown to cause happiness). Those strengths, starting from (typically) the strongest correlation are zest, hope, love, gratitude, and curiosity. Studies are showing that these strengths are especially important for psycho-emotional factors at work, such as having more work meaning and engagement.
Which of the five happiness strengths do you want to build up in your life?
3. Lesser Strengths
Sometimes called lower strengths or bottom strengths, these character strengths emerge in the bottom five. These are not weaknesses or problems or deficits. Rather, these strengths are those you likely have not spent time developing or valuing, compared to your other character strengths. Studies have shown that focusing on a lower strength can boost your happiness and decrease depression.
Name your lowest character strengths. Is there one strength that you’d like to use more of your life?
4. Phasic Strengths
These are your “rise to the occasion” strengths. This means that when a given situation demands use of a particular strength that is not your signature strength, you are able to not only call the strength forward but you do so strongly and adaptively. The classic example is you come upon a person who is in trouble and you exert your bravery to help them. A more “everyday” example would be you realize a new work project is going to require extensive organizing and planning and so you bring forth your prudence over a period of time to map everything out in great detail.
When you have “risen to the occasion” in your life? What strengths were you using?
5. Middle Strengths
These character strengths support or readily enhance your signature strengths. These are also referred to as “supportive strengths,” as these round out the middle of your character strengths profile.
Choose one of your middle strengths. How might you use this strength to make one of your highest strengths even stronger? Or make it more balanced? You might use self-regulation to temper your curiosity strength at a meeting or you might use your hope strength by being optimistic about a difficult relationship to help you activate more perseverance in sticking with that relationship through challenging times.
6. Lost Strengths
These are character strengths you have allowed to go dormant for a period of time or they have simply eroded from your conscious awareness and use. Perhaps one of your best qualities like perseverance or bravery was consistently squashed by an authority figure (e.g., parent, teacher, manager, sport coach, sibling, friend) or perhaps your critical thinking and love of learning strengths were discouraged due to cultural or social constraints. A lost strength can conceivably be any character strength in your profile (e.g., a signature strength, a lesser strength).
- Choose at least one of the above activities to take action with.
- Take the free, validated VIA Survey of character strengths to get your full profile of character strengths from 1-24.
- This article is based on content from the book Character Strengths Interventions: A Field-Guide for Practitioners.