By Rich Valdez
Every human being, across countries and cultures, has 24 distinct character strengths, according to Dr. Chris Peterson and Dr. Martin Seligman. These 24 character strengths may vary in degree from one person to another, but we all have them.
These character strengths are positive traits. They emanate from our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Because each trait is measurable, we become capable of discerning individual differences in the people around us.
The 24 character strengths are:
Humor. Also referred to as playfulness, humor involves pleasure in friendly teasing, laughing, and bringing happiness to others. Individuals with this strength see the light side of life in many situations, finding things to be cheerful about rather than letting adversity get them down. Humor is not just telling jokes. It is also about having a playful and imaginative approach to life.
Love. Loving individuals cherish close relationships, especially those that are reciprocal in sharing and caring. Love is expressed to those we depend on, and who in turn depend on us. It is also expressed towards those we feel romantic, sexual, and emotional attraction to. This strength allows someone to trust others and make them their prime consideration in decision-making.
Creativity. This involves applying one’s originality to seek novel ways to contribute positively to one’s own life and those of others. Such originality can be as simple as everyday ingenuity, to something as large as ground-breaking work that wins high recognition. Creative people use their imaginations in different, surprising ways to solve problems they encounter. Traditionally, this strength focuses on artistic expression and scientific discovery, but it applies to any area of life where obstacles need imagination to be resolved. Artistic achievement is part of creativity, but it does not embody the whole of it.
Curiosity. Curiosity is finding interest in all ongoing experiences. It is deliberate recognition and pursuit of challenging opportunities, and being constantly on the lookout for new knowledge. Curiosity comes in three categories: novelty-seeking, interest, and openness to new experiences. Curiosity drives people to make discoveries and to explore the boundaries of human knowledge simply for its own sake.
Fairness. This is the inclination to treat all people in the same way, according to one’s standards of fairness and justice. Fairness disallows feelings of bias, especially when making decisions that concern others, giving everyone a fair chance.
Love of learning. This is the desire to master new topics and skills, and acquire knowledge, whether on your own or through formal education. Although it is related to the earlier-mentioned strength of curiosity, love of learning goes far beyond that. It includes having a tendency to systematically add to what one already knows.
Appreciation of beauty and excellence. This is also called awe, wonder, and/or elevation. People with this character strength appreciate beauty and feel awe towards everything around them. They enjoy observing physical beauty, the skills and talents of other people, and the beauty that resides in virtue and morality. Such people find beauty in almost every area of life.
Gratitude. This is about being aware of, and feeling thankful for, the good things in one’s life. Grateful people take time to express thanks and to dwell on the good things they are given in life. Gratitude can be expressed to a person, a divinity, or simply expressed outwardly to no one in particular. However, gratitude (as defined by positive psychology) focuses more on the giver than the gift.
Honesty. Far beyond speaking the truth, honesty includes leading an authentic life that is manifested in your behavior and self-presentation. Honest people act sincerely and allow no pretense. Taking responsibility for one's own feelings and actions is also part of honesty.
Spirituality. Also referred to as faith, religiousness, and purpose, spirituality is universal to the human experience. It involves knowing one’s place in the grand scheme of things, and includes (but is not limited to) religious belief and practice. Spirituality allows awareness of what is sacred in everyday life, and lends comfort amid adversity. It provides clear and meaningful beliefs about the universe, its higher purpose, and significance.
Forgiveness. This is the gift of being able to forgive those who have wronged you. It includes accepting the shortcomings of other people, and giving people a second chance, rather than being vengeful.
Kindness. This means doing good deeds for others, such as helping a person out when they need it. Kindness also involves taking care of people who are alone and have no one else to care for them.
Zest. Someone with this character strength views life with energy and excitement, and does not do things half-heartedly. Life is an adventure, and they always feel alive and activated.
Hope. Hopeful people have an expectation that good things will happen in the future. They have confidence and believe that their efforts toward future goals will make these goals happen. It also involves expecting the best from themselves and others.
Leadership. This is the ability to encourage a team that you are leading, and be able to accomplish things that must be done, while at the same time maintaining good relations within the group. People with this character strength are drawn to organizing group activities, making sure they happen, and overseeing them.
Social intelligence. This means having an awareness of the feelings and motivations of others and of oneself. It involves knowing what to do to fit into different social situations, and knowing what makes other people tick.
Bravery. Brave people do not feel intimidated by threats, difficulties, challenges, or pain. They speak up for what’s right, even in the face of opposition. They act on their convictions, even if it makes them unpopular. Physical bravery is a component of bravery, but there are others.
Teamwork. This is the ability to be a team player. It includes loyalty, and doing one’s share of whatever work needs to be done.
Humility. A person with this character strength lets their accomplishments speak for themselves, rather than bragging about them. They see themselves realistically, for all that they are, rather than imagining themselves to be more special than others.
Judgment. This means examining things from all sides, rather than simply jumping to conclusions. With this character strength you have the ability to change your opinion based on evidence, and have the skill to weigh all evidence fairly.
Perseverance. If you have this character strength, you finish what you start, to the very end, despite obstacles, and derive pleasure from completing a task.
Perspective. This is the ability to provide wise counsel to others. You have a vision of the world that makes sense both to you and to other people.
Self-regulation. Someone with self-regulation can balance what they feel and do. They have discipline and control over their appetites and emotions.
Prudence. This means being mindful of your choices, avoiding undue risks, and making sure that you don’t say or do things that you might regret later.
Why should we know about character strengths?
The primary reason why we should know about character strengths is that they concern us. Also, according to Peterson and Seligman, these 24 character strengths underlie positive qualities such as forgiveness, bravery, gratitude and integrity.
Knowing these strengths enables us to pass them on to our children so that they are knowledgeable about themselves, and understand that other children have these strengths too. This knowledge provides genuine self-confidence in children. They learn to understand other people better, and they can appreciate one another’s differences.
Beyond weight, height, and skin color, character strengths help children understand differences that can’t be seen, but can be understood and valued in other children. These strengths provide the children with a framework for reflection and discussion.
Benefits of knowing our character strengths
Seligman says that knowing your 24 character strengths (and their order from strongest to weakest) will give you knowledge that underpins five areas of wellbeing, namely:
More positive emotion
Some of these 24 character strengths are more related to happiness and life satisfaction than others, but no study exists that specifies which ones they are.
Ancient philosophers believed specific character strengths led to personal fulfillment. Aristotle chose wisdom, Confucius chose benevolence, Cicero chose gratitude, and Aquinas chose faith, hope, and charity. Living French philosopher André Comte-Sponville cites love. But no scientific evidence proves if any of them are right.
Seligman does, however, point out the relationships of these 24 characteristics to larger and more general traits, as follows:
Courage - Bravery, perseverance, integrity, zest/enthusiasm.
Humanity - Love, kindness, social intelligence.
Transcendence - Appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope/optimism, humor, connection/purpose.
Temperance - Self-control, prudence, humility/modesty, forgiveness.
Justice – Forgiveness, leadership, fairness, teamwork/citizenship.
Wisdom and knowledge - Perspective, love of learning, open-mindedness, curiosity, creativity.
At any rate, now that you know about these 24 character strengths, you can take a test to determine where they rank with you, from the strongest to the weakest. To take this free test, go to http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths#. It is advised that you choose a career that will use your four top strengths, and that you make it a practice to strengthen your top strengths through daily use.