The question we should be asking is one which Aristotle posed 2,500 years ago: “What is the good life?” Positive psychology would suggest that the answer is tied up in the identification and the use of your signature strengths.
“Positive Psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose.” – Martin E. Seligman, PhD, Authentic Happiness
Living the good life is discussed intelligently in Dr. Martin E. Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. His advice is neither quick nor easy, and it’s worth taking.
Positive Psychology and the Realms of Happiness
Positive psychology is the branch of psychology with a focus on personal growth rather than on pathology, with a goal of aiding in the achievement of a satisfactory life. The goal here is not to merely survive, but to thrive.
The vision of happiness set forth by positive psychology has three dimensions:
- The Pleasant Life: pursuing, savoring, and appreciating positive feelings and basic pleasures.
- The Good Life: using your signature strengths and virtues to obtain authentic happiness and abundant gratification in the main realms of your life.
- The Meaningful Life: the attachment of your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something greater.
To live all three of these lives is to lead a full life, which “consists in experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using the strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning.”
The 6 Virtues
Virtues are admirable qualities and they stand for moral excellence. These six virtues have a historical basis in the vast majority of cultures, meaning these standards of goodness can be found in most cultures around the world.
- Wisdom and Knowledge
- Humanity and Love
Building a life around these virtues–by pursuing their related strengths–leads to increased happiness and meaning in life.
The 24 Strengths
There are several distinct routes to each of the six virtues; in positive psychology these routes are called strengths. These strengths are measurable and acquirable. Here are the guidelines positive psychologists used when choosing the strengths:
- A strength is a trait, a psychological characteristic that can be seen across different situations and over time.
- A strength is valued in its own right, even in the absence of beneficial outcomes (e.g. leadership is valued even when a raise does not follow).
- The display of a strength by one person does not diminish others.
- The strengths are ubiquitous, meaning they’re valued in almost every culture in the world.
- Wisdom and knowledge
- Curiosity / Interest in the world
- Love of learning
- Judgment / Critical thinking / Open-mindedness
- Ingenuity / Originality / Practical intelligence / Street smarts
- Social intelligence / Personal intelligence / Emotional intelligence
- Valor and Bravery
- Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
- Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty
- Humanity and Love
- Kindness and Generosity
- Loving and allowing oneself to be loved
- Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
- Fairness and Equity
- Prudence / Discretion / Caution
- Humility and Modesty
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence
- Hope / Optimism / Future-mindedness
- Spirituality / Sense of purpose / Faith / Religiousness
- Forgiveness and Mercy
- Playfulness and Humor
- Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm
Discover Your Signature Strengths
To identify your signature strengths, visit the Authentic Happiness website, go to the “Questionnaires” tab and select the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths.” The survey will list your top five strengths—most will feel authentic, but one or two may not speak to you; you may be good at displaying that strength, but you may not feel like you own it.
Each person possesses several signature strengths that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if they can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting, and in having a meaningful life.
Consider the following statements, and if one or more apply to your top five strengths, these are your signature strengths:
- A sense of ownership or authenticity
- A feeling of excitement when displaying it
- A rapid learning curve as strength is first practiced
- Continuous learning of new ways to enact it
- A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
- A feeling of inevitability in using it
- Invigoration rather than exhaustion while using it
- The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it
- Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it
- What are your signature strengths?
- How do you, or can you, use them in your daily life?
- Are you familiar with the work of positive psychology?
- Do you have any take-aways from this post that you’d like to share?
Please share any thoughts and experiences with me in the comments.
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