Character Strengths And Health And Wellness

Summary of Research Findings

The application of character strengths in the domain of health has lagged behind other areas recently, such as business and education. Nevertheless, there are a few notable studies (e.g., Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohn, & Ruch, 2013). In addition, researchers have previously investigated specific character strengths to see what level of impact they have on health/wellness (e.g., hope/optimism, gratitude). Research Articles

  • The use of signature strengths at work was positively linked with well-being and mental health but not with physical health among medical students and resident physicians (Hausler et al 2017).
    Hausler, M., Strecker, C., Huber, A., Brenner, M., Höge, T., & Höfer, S. (2017). Associations between the application of signature character strengths, health and well-being of health professionals. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01307
  • A program in Kenya has placed character strengths development at the core of a community-based program for youth in under-resourced primary school communities. When youth learn about and reflect on their character strengths and share them publicly, their health and hygiene habits/behaviors increase in frequency, in addition to several other outcomes such as missing less school and having less water-related illness (Fialkov, Haddad, & Gowan, 2017).
    Fialkov, C., Haddad, D., & Gowan, M. (2017). Unpublished findings.
  • Patients suffering from acute coronary syndrome benefitted from an 8-week phone intervention which included identifying and using a signature strength. Another study of cardiac patients combined the use of three character strengths (gratitude, hope, and kindness) and found that patients experienced increases in health-related quality of life compared to a relaxation group and to controls (Huffman et al. 2011, 2016)
    Huffman, J. C., Mastromauro, C. A., Boehm, J. K., Seabrook, R., Fricchione, G. L., Denninger, J. W., et al. (2011). Development of a positive psychology intervention for patients with acute cardiovascular disease. Heart International, 6(2), e14.
    Huffman, J.C., Millstein, R.A., Mastromauro, C.A., Shannon V. Moore, Christopher M. Celano, C. Andres Bedoya, Laura Suarez, Julia K. Boehm, James L. Januzzi. (2016). A Positive Psychology Intervention for Patients with an Acute Coronary Syndrome: Treatment Development and Proof-of-Concept Trial. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(5), 1985-2006. doi:10.1007/s10902-015-9681-1
  • In randomized controlled trials involving thousands of girls in poverty in India, girls who received a curriculum which incorporated character strengths (identification and use of signature strengths and concrete examples of other strengths) exhibited significantly greater physical health (and psychosocial health) benefits in comparison to those girls who received a similar curriculum which did not include character strengths as well as a control group (Leventhal et al., 2015, 2016).
    Leventhal, K. S., DeMaria, L. M., Gillham, J. E., Andrew, G., Peabody, J., & Leventhal, S. M. (2016). A psychosocial resilience curriculum provides the “missing piece” to boost adolescent physical health: A randomized controlled trial of Girls First in India. Social Science & Medicine, 161, 37–46.
    Leventhal, K. S., Gillham, J., DeMaria, L., Andrew, G., Peabody, J., & Leventhal, S. (2015). Building psychosocial assets and wellbeing among adolescent girls: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Adolescence, 45, 284–295.
  • Among medical students in Australia who completed a course that integrated the VIA Classification virtues in a clinical context using personal narratives, experiential exercises, contemplative practices, and reflective practices, the students self-reported improved understanding of the virtues and their importance to the practice of medicine (Seoane et al 2016).
    Seoane L., Tompkins L. M., De Conciliis A, Boysen P. G. (2016). Virtues education in medical school: The foundation for professional formation. The Ochsner Journal, 16(1), 50-55.
  • A study by Hanks and colleagues examined a group of patients with traumatic brain injury and found that character strengths and virtues showed unique value in predicting physical health and disability (Hanks et al, 2014).
    Hanks, R. A., Rapport, L. J., Waldron-Perrine, B., Millis, S. R. (2014). Role of character strengths in outcome after mild complicated to severe traumatic brain injury: a positive psychology study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 95(11), 2096-2102, ISSN 0003-9993,
  • Children with a life-threatening illness were studied and it was found that higher benefit-finding and character strengths (love and gratitude) predicted positive changes in life satisfaction over time, and in turn, positive emotions predicted changes in benefit-finding over time through various character strengths such as zest and gratitude (Chaves, Hervas, Garcia, & Vazquez, 2016). These researchers also studied a positive intervention (granting a wish) among seriously ill children and compared to a waitlist control group, the children had increased levels of strengths, life satisfaction, positive emotions, and less nausea (Chaves, Vazquez, & Hervas, 2016).
    Chaves, C., Hervas, G., García, F. E., & Vazquez, C. (2016). Building life satisfaction through well-being dimensions: A longitudinal study in children with a life-threatening illness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(3), 1051-1067. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-015-9631-y Chaves, C., Vázquez, C., & Hervás, G. (2016). Positive interventions in seriously-ill children: Effects on well-being after granting a wish. Journal of Health Psychology, 21(9), 1870-1883. DOI: 10.1177/1359105314567768  
  • Discusses the need for strengths-based technology tools in healthcare, including the use of technology to identify and discuss strengths in clinical consultation, alignment with patient issues/context, in preconsultation, and other situations in healthcare/medical settings (Mirkovic et al. 2016).
    Mirkovic, J.,  Kristjansdottir, O. B., Stenberg, U., Krogseth, T., Stange, K., C., & Ruland, C. M. (2016). Patient insights into the design of technology to support a strengths-based approach to health care. JMIR Research Protocols, 5(3), e175. DOI:10.2196/resprot.5906  
  • Character strengths are discussed as an integral part of the wellness coaching program at a large university (Gibbs & Larcus, 2014; Larcus, Gibbs, & Hackmann, 2016)
    Gibbs, T., & Larcus, J. (2014-2015). Wellness coaching: Helping student thrive. Journal of Student Affairs, 24 , 23-34. Larcus, J., Gibbs, T., & Hackmann, T. (2016). Building capacities for change: Wellness coaching as a positive approach to student development. Philosophy of Coaching: An International Journal, 1(1), 43-62.  
  • Qualitative study examining an exercise program that is tailored to each individual’s signature strengths. Results showed improvements in exercise adherence, enjoyment of exercise, and achievement (Stocker & Hefferon, 2016).
    Stocker, S., & Hefferon, K., (2016). The development of a character strengths based exercise program for exercise adherence. A qualitative inquiry. Unpublished manuscript.  

  • In a study of character strengths, big 5 personality traits, contact with nature, and well-being, it was character strengths that had the biggest impact on wellness (Korotkov & Godbout, 2014). Korotkov, D., & Godbout, A. (2014). Personality, motivation, nature, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 60, S65.  
  • Character strengths, resilience, and positive mood were related to primary factors of treatment success (including treatment expectations and perception of functional ability) in rehabilitation medicine settings (among a group of individuals with acquired brain injury) (Bertisch et al., 2014).
    Bertisch, H., Rath, J., Long, C., Ashman, T., & Rashid, T. (2014). Positive psychology in rehabilitation medicine: A brief report. NeuroRehabilitation, 34(3), 573-585.  
  • Greater endorsement of character strengths is associated with a number of health behaviors, such as feeling healthy, leading an active way of life (e.g., zest), the pursuit of enjoyable activities, healthy eating, watching one’s food, and physical fitness. All character strengths (except humility and spirituality) were associated with multiple health behaviors. While self-regulation had the highest associations overall, curiosity, appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, hope, and humor also displayed strong connections with health behaviors (Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohn, & Ruch, 2013).
    Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2013). What good are character strengths beyond subjective well-being? The contribution of the good character on self-reported health-oriented behavior, physical fitness, and the subjective health status. Journal of Positive Psychology.  
  • Character strengths were highly correlated with well-being subscales of self-acceptance, purpose, and environmental mastery, as well as good physical and mental health (Leontopoulou & Triliva, 2012).
    Leontopoulou, S. & Triliva, S. (2012). Explorations of subjective wellbeing and character strengths among a Greek University student sample. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (3), 251-270.  
  • Older adult patients with a chronic physical disability at an inpatient rehabilitation facility were randomly assigned to a 7-day strengths-based intervention group or a control group and significant improvement on distress was found for the treatment group (O'Donnell, 2013).
    O’Donnell, P. J. (2013). Psychological effects of a strength-based intervention among inpatients in rehabilitation for pain and disability. (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. ISBN: 978-1-303-53639-7.
  • Individuals who use their character strengths experienced greater well-being, which was related to both physical and mental health. Strengths use was a unique predictor of subjective well-being after self-esteem and self-efficacy were controlled for (Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2009).
    Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2009) Strengths use as a predictor of well-being and health-related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583-630.
  • Character strengths were associated with lower levels of sexual behaviors and sex-related beliefs among African-American adolescents. Specifically on the VIA, higher love of learning was related to boys’ self-reported abstinence from sexual intercourse and boys’ & girls’ self-reported abstinence from drug use; higher curiosity was related to boys’ & girls’ belief in no premarital sex (love of learning was also significant for boys); prudence was related to reported abstinence from sexual intimacy; judgment was related to sexual initiation efficacy for girls & boys (leadership was also significant for girls; Ma et al., 2008).
    Ma, M., Kibler, J. L., Dollar, K. M., Sly, K., Samuels, D., Benford, M. W., Coleman, M., Lott, L., Patterson, K., & Wiley, F. (2008). The relationship of character strengths to sexual behaviors and related risks among African American adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 15 (4), 319-327.
  • Adolescent students who counted blessings reported higher levels of optimism and life satisfaction, less negative affect, and fewer physical symptoms (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
    Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233.
  • Hope was a significant predictor of medication adherence among asthma patients between 8 and 12 (Berg, Rapoff, Snyder, & Belmont, 2007).
    Berg, C. J., Rapoff, M. A., Snyder, C. R., & Belmont, J. M. (2007). The relationship of children’s hope to pediatric asthma treatment adherence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 176-184.
  • When an individual has a physical disorder, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if they are high on the character strengths of bravery, kindness, and humor (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006).
    Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Greater strengths of character and recovery from illness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1 (1), 17–26.
  • When an individual has a psychological disorder, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if they are high on the character strengths of appreciation of beauty & excellence and love of learning (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006).
    Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Greater strengths of character and recovery from illness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1 (1), 17–26.
  • The strengths of the “heart” (e.g., love, gratitude) are more strongly associated with well-being than are strengths of the “head” (e.g., creativity, open-mindedness/judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence; Park & Peterson, 2008b; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).
    1. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2008b). The cultivation of character strengths. In M. Ferrari & G. Poworowski (Eds.), Teaching for wisdom (pp. 57-75). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. 2. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
  • The practice of gratitude (counting blessings) is linked to fewer physical symptoms, more optimistic life appraisals, and more time exercising and improved well-being and optimal functioning (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
    Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.
  • The practice of gratitude is linked to increases in well-being among those with neuromuscular disease (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
    Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.
  • Grateful individuals report higher positive mood, optimism, life satisfaction, vitality, religiousness and spirituality, and less depression and envy than less grateful individuals (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
    McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127.
  • Grateful people tend to be more helpful, supportive, forgiving, empathic, and agreeable (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
    McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127.


Updated 4/26/2018







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