Positive Psychology at the Movies: Character Strengths in “Love Actually”

Positive Psychology at the MoviesOne of the central concepts in Positive Psychology is the framework of 24 character strengths that have been outlined by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman in their 2004 tome. It was the foundation for the VIA Institute on Character – where you can take a test (for free) to find out what your top strengths are.

Ryan Niemiec, VIA´s Education Director, has published the book Positive Psychology at the Movies. It examines nearly 1,500 movies with regard to their display of the 24 character strengths throughout their plots. Frankly, so far I did not have the time to watch all of those movies – but considering general life expectancy, I will be able to so until I´m grey and old (don´t know where Ryan finds the time, considering how many books he publishes).

Anyway, I had an idea: instead of trying to find all of the character strengths throughout a ton of movies – would it be possible to find them all in just one? Therefore, I picked one of my all-time favorites, romantic (Christmas) comedy Love Actually, watched it for the hundredth time (or so…) – but for once, looked through the eyes of the VIA taxonomy. And tadaaa: I was able to spot all of them, even though I have to admit that two or three of the attributions may seem somewhat debatable.

Here´s what I´ve found:

  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Karen displays perspective and humor when cheering up Daniel as he mourns for departed wife.
  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Harry the Boss displays social intelligence and leadership when confronting his employee Sarah about her being in love with co-worker Carl.
  • Little Sam displays honesty and bravery when telling his step father Daniel about being in love with Joanna.
  • Little Sam displays spirituality when he tells his father about how he believes in love and that there’s one true love out there for each and every one of us.
  • Prime Minister David displays humor when he tries to cheer up Natalie after she told him how bad she has been treated by her ex-boyfriend.
  • The Prime Minister displays prudence and judgment when, at first, he does not want to confront the U.S. delegation during the meeting with U.K. ministers.
  • The Prime Minister displays leadership, humor, and bravery when confronting the POTUS at the press conference.
  • Jamie displays love of learning and perseverance when trying to learn Portuguese in order to be able to talk to Aurelia.Love Actually - Billy Mack
  • Colin displays zest, curiosity, hope, and bravery when deciding to leave the UK for Wisconsin.
  • Mark displays kindness, great honesty, love, and bravery when meeting Juliet at her house on Christmas Eve to confess his love, but also his approval of her living with Peter. (By the way, this is probably my all-time favorite movie scene).
  • Karen displays self-regulation and judgment when pulling herself together on Christmas Day after having found out Harry has cheated on her – in order not to spoil Christmas for their kids.
  • Sarah displays fairness and (the capacity to) love (and be loved) when spending Christmas together with her mentally ill brother.
  • John displays gratitude after having been kissed by “Just Judy” for the first time.
  • The school orchestra/choir displays teamwork when performing at the Christmas concert.
  • The whole audience displays appreciation of beauty and excellence when witnessing young Joanna sing “All I want for Christmas” at the school’s Christmas celebration.
  • Little Sam displays perseverance, and bravery when running to say good-bye to his love Joanna at the airport.
  • Jamie displays hope, bravery, and love when he leaves his family’s Christmas party to spontaneously board a plane to ask Portuguese housemaid Aurelia to marry him.
  • Billy Mack displays humility and gratitude when deciding to return to Joe, his ugly manager, instead of spending Christmas Eve at Elton John´s party.
  • Karen displays forgiveness when she consolingly welcomes her husband Harry at the airport after he has betrayed her.

What´s your favorite movie – and are you maybe going to see it with different eyes in the future?

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