We all have character strengths, but how do we know we do? Where do we go to find them? My favorite way to search for character strengths is to look at the things we do every day, the simple actions and not so simple actions that we take in life. Let’s say that I expressed an opinion yesterday disagreeing with the group. That takes bravery and bravery is indeed a character strength. Or if I read a book yesterday, which shows that I am a curious and persevering person, other wonderful character strengths to help us learn about our world and grow as human beings. What if I held the door for people a number of times? That reflects kindness and self-discipline as character strengths. Watering my plants is another good example, reflecting an appreciation of beauty. This, too, is a character strength.
It helps to have a list of character strengths nearby to find out which ones you likely possess. After writing down a list of actions that you took during the day, look to the character strength list and write down ones that go with each act. There often can be more than one character strength linked to an action. Here are twenty-four known character strengths researched by the VIA Institute on Character (http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths).
Once you label your list of everyday situations with what character strengths you think go with them, a further suggestion is to rate yourself from one to ten (lowest to highest) on these traits. Take the ones that need some work and think up ways to develop them. This can take some creativity on your part. Not high on curiosity, e.g. ask more questions about things with an eye toward learning. Not high on kindness? There’s so much to do here – e.g. holding doors, apologizing when hurting someone’s feelings, telling a friend how much you appreciate them, and of course, being kind to yourself and less self-critical. Bravery is not your thing? Try to face a fear in steps at a time. Observing acts of bravery also can increase our own willingness to act bravely in situations.
You might even want to do the character strength exercise weekly for a while and in this way learn more about the strengths that you never thought you had before. Doing these exercises is an ongoing reminder of the power that turning to and developing character strengths can have in our lives. There is nothing like character. Look at it a guiding star with these strengths bringing out the best in you and the people that you meet throughout your life.
June Rousso, Ph.D., http://junerousso.com