Since the onset of psychology as an academic discipline at the end of the 19th century, it has been functioning on the premise of a disease model: most psychologists were mainly interested in what´s “wrong with people” – and then finding cures for all those wrongs. Which is fine, but … just not the only way looking at humankind. It took psychology about a hundred years to take on the opposite perspective: trying to find out what´s right with people. Together with a colleague, the late Christopher Peterson, Martin Seligman published the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification about ten years ago, which scientifically classifies and describes 24 human strengths based on six broad virtues.
In order to make their list, a character strength had to satisfy most of the following criteria. Character strengths should be:
- intrinsically valuable;
- not the opposite of a desirable trait;
- trait-like (stable over time);
- not a combination of the other character strengths;
- personified by people made famous through story, song, etc.;
- observable in child prodigies;
- absent in some individuals;
- and nurtured by societal norms and institutions.
The six virtues and 24 character strengths are:
Wisdom and Knowledge
(strengths that involve the acquisition and use of knowledge)
- love of learning
- perspective and wisdom
(strengths that allow one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition)
(strengths of tending and befriending others)
- social intelligence
(strengths that build healthy community)
- active citizenship
(strengths that protect against excess)
(strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning)
- appreciation of beauty
- humor and playfulness
What are my signature strengths?
Why should anybody be interested in his/her strengths? The rationale for finding out what our real strengths are is rather simple: Using our so-called signature strengths in daily life and work makes us happy – and most likely: successful. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It invigorates and energizes us. It´s the real deal…
You can find out what your signature strength are by taking a comprehensive scientific test on Martin Seligman´s website: the Signature Strengths Questionnaire. I´ve taken the test about a year ago – my main character strengths are:
Curiosity and interest in the world
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
Humor and playfulness
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
Capacity to love and be loved
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.