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What Happens When You Consider The 'Sense Of' Strengths

January 7, 2014 by ·

Contributed by:  Patty Newbold is a marriage educator and author of http://AssumeLove.com.

A Sense of Honor

It started when I passed a billboard the other day. It had a photo of a Marine in full dress uniform and the words “A sense of honor.” I thought ah, one of the 24 VIA character strengths: the one called Honesty, described also as authenticity and integrity. But why “a sense of honor” and not just “honor”?

Immediately, the phrase “a sense of awe” popped into my head. Another character strength! It’s one of the descriptors for Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. And then a sense of Humor, a sense of Humility, a sense of vitality (a descriptor for the strength called Zest), a sense of Hope, a sense of citizenship (describing Teamwork). Hmm…would it work for all twenty four strengths?

“A sense of Love of Learning” sounded like gibberish, but “a sense of mastery” brought a deep sigh of recognition. This is what distinguishes Love of Learning from Curiosity, no?

“A sense of Perseverance” also sounded quite peculiar, but “a sense of obligation” or “a sense of duty” did not.

A sense of Curiosity, a sense of valor (a descriptor for Bravery), a sense of Fairness, a sense of compassion (describing Kindness), a sense of Forgiveness: so many of them worked. A sense of Gratitude. A sense of Perspective. For Spirituality, a sense of higher purpose. For Prudence, a sense of caution. For Self-Regulation, a sense of self-control.

 What difference does an extra word make?

When I got to my computer, I looked up Google’s definition of “sense,” as in “sense of.” Here’s what I found:

“a keen intuitive awareness of or sensitivity to the presence or importance of something”

Wow! The definition of sense  sounded so much like Marty Seligman’s description of Signature Strengths, the ones we picked up quickly and naturally and couldn’t really choose to not do. While some of our strengths might be the result of good training, others flow from our awareness of or sensitivity to something of great value to us.

In my marriage education programs and coaching, I often ask people to identify their spouses’ top character strengths. Much of the time, they are too angry and too focused on what they feel are weaknesses to recall any strengths. Now I am thinking of how to rephrase my questions to look for that keen awareness, that great sensitivity, that “sense of.” I think a hurt husband or wife won’t forget these as readily as strengths while focused on the negatives.

Did you feel that?

That second strength that popped into my head as the billboard receded in my rear view mirror, the sense of awe, had an interesting effect on me. I felt the sensations in my chest that go with awe, that sharp inward breath, that blurring of the lines between me and the body of water I was now looking at, that dropping jaw. This was, indeed, a sense, almost as valuable to me and certainly as powerful as my five senses. Some of the others did, too, but only the ones near the top of my list of strengths, like a sense of Perspective and a sense of mastery.

Marriage matters to me, and Love is another of my top strengths. A “sense of Love” brought no strong sensations, perhaps because I am now pretty sure that being able to let oneself be loved is the more important part of this strength. And that’s when I recalled Barbara Frederickson’s work on the emotion of love, which she describes in her book, Love 2.0. “A sense of resonance” I could feel.

What about the rest?

This leaves me with a few more. I am hoping you can help with them. What is the “sense of,” the keen intuitive awareness, the sensitivity behind the remaining four strengths: Creativity, Judgment, Social Intelligence, Leadership?

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