Using Character Strengths to Increase Happiness
In the field of Psychology, there is a domain called Positive Psychology which focuses on “what makes life worth living”. (Peterson, 2008) Positive Psychology encourages individuals to look at the Character Strengths they have and look at how those strengths can be used to increase happiness and wellbeing. Although Positive Psychology acknowledges that people do experience real problems and concerns, the focus is on using the strengths that we already have to increase our quality of life. Dr. Martin Seligman, from the University of Pennsylvania, along with his colleagues, has created a questionnaire called the Values in Action (VIA) Survey. This survey will help individuals understand their character strengths and gives ideas about how to use these strengths to increase positive feelings.
Dr. Seligman considers wellbeing to be made up of five elements. These five elements are as follows:
Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. If an individual has the ability to increase these five elements, they can increase their sense of wellbeing. By using Character Strengths that are most prevalent for that individual, the five elements of wellbeing can be increased. To say this in a more “user friendly” way, individuals can look at their strengths, and use those strengths to increase positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievements. By increasing these elements, there will be an increase in happiness.
Typically, we use these strengths without even thinking about it in our daily lives. These strengths become our “default” when we go through our day. The problem is that we don’t always lean on these strengths when we are going through a tough time, are in crisis or in a situation that is unfamiliar to us. During these times we often default to coping mechanisms that might not be as productive. For example, say that I am the type of person who has Curiosity as a Character Strength and I love to research things. I do the research before I make any new purchase or before I hire someone to work on my house, or when I think about taking a class. But, maybe, if I go to the doctor and I get some news that I am not happy about, I default to worry and panic and feeling overwhelmed. If I can recognize what my Character Strengths are, I can think about how to use them during this time. I can use my Character Strength of Curiosity to do research so that I can come up with some questions to ask my doctor. If I also had a Character Strength of Spirituality, I could use that to help find some peace around what I was dealing with. Essentially, by using our Character Strengths, we can help ourselves from struggling when things are difficult and build our resilience at the same time.
After we make using our Character Strengths an everyday practice, we can spend more of our time focusing on how we can increase the good moments in our life. If you are interested in finding out what you top 5 Character Strengths are you can follow this link VIA Survey and take the VIA Survey. One you have discovered what your strengths are, you can write down concrete, specific situations when you use these strengths and how these same strengths can help you get through a difficult time. Initially it might take some practice, but overtime you will see how life can be a bit easier, when you make a habit of using the strengths that you already have.