What The Research Says About Character Strengths

Below is a robust sampling of character strengths research organized by key topic area.  Click on the topic area to view short summaries of research study conclusions.  References for each study are listed at the bottom of the entire list.  For more articles, best practices, and stories visit our Resources page.  To get up-to-date information on character strengths research and applications delivered to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter.

Topic Areas:

Signature Strengths

  • Using one’s signature strengths in a new way increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
  • In a longitudinal study, strengths use was found to be an important predictor of well-being and led to less stress and increased positive affect, vitality, and self-esteem at 3-month and 6-month follow-up (Wood et al.,2011).

VIA Character Strengths in the Workplace

  • Employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a).
  • Across occupations, curiosity, zest, hope, gratitude, and spirituality are the Big 5 strengths associated with work satisfaction (Peterson et al., 2010).
  • Character strengths – especially zest, perseverance, hope, and curiosity – play a key role in health and ambitious work behavior (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
  • Top 10 (rank order) strengths expressed at work: honesty, judgment, perspective, fairness, perseverance, love of learning, leadership, zest, curiosity, social intelligence.
  • Viewing one’s work as a “calling” in which one’s work is viewed as a source of fulfillment that is socially useful and personal meaningful, rather than as financial reward or career advancement, is predicted by the character strength of zest (Peterson et al., 2009).

VIA Character Strengths in Positive Education (and Children/Youth)

  • In a study of adolescent romantic relationships, honesty, humor, and love were the most preferred character strengths in an ideal partner (Weber & Ruch, 2012a).
  • Character strengths of the mind (e.g., self-regulation, perseverance, love of learning) were predictive of school success (Weber & Ruch, 2012b).
  • The most prevalent character strengths in very young children are love, kindness, creativity, curiosity, and humor (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
  • When compared with U.S. adults, youth from the U.S. are higher on the character strengths of hope, teamwork, and zest and adults are higher on appreciation of beauty & excellence, honesty, leadership, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006b).
  • Character strengths with a developmental trajectory (least common in youth and increase over time through cognitive maturation) are appreciation of beauty & excellence, forgiveness, modesty, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006a; 2006b).
Universality, Prevalence, and General Findings
  •  Character strengths are universal (Dahlsgaard, Peterson, & Seligman, 2005; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006). High rates of agreement, desirability, and development of VIA character strengths were found in remote cultures (Kenyan Maasai & Inughuit in Northern Greenland) and the U.S. (U. of Illinois students; Biswas-Diener, 2006). VIA character strengths are remarkably similar across 54 nations and across the United States (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • All of the 24 VIA strengths of character meet 8, 9, or all 10 of the following criteria: fulfilling, morally valued, do not diminish others; nonfelicitous opposites; traitlike; distinctiveness; paragons; prodigies; selective absence; institutions/rituals (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
  • Character may occupy the most central role in the field of positive psychology. Pleasure, flow, and other positive experiences are enabled by good character (Park & Peterson, 2009a; Peterson, Ruch, Beerman, Park, & Seligman, 2007).
  • The most prevalent character strengths in human beings in descending order are kindness, fairness, honesty, gratitude, judgment (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • The least prevalent character strengths in human beings are prudence, modesty, and self-regulation (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • In a study of gender differences and character strengths, women scored highest on the strengths of honesty, kindness, love, gratitude, and fairness, while men scored highest on honesty, hope, humor, gratitude, and curiosity. Life satisfaction was predicted by zest, gratitude, hope, appreciation of beauty/excellence, and love for women, while life satisfaction was predicted by creativity, perspective, fairness, and humor for men (Brdar, Anic, & Rijavec, 2011).
  • Too much (overuse) and too little (underuse) of character strengths use can have a negative impact on well-being and other important factors (for a review, see Grant and Schwartz, 2011).

Character Strengths and Life Satisfaction

  • Among youth, the character strengths most related to life satisfaction are love, gratitude, hope, and zest; very young children (ages 3-9) described by their parents as happy are also noted as showing love, hope, and zest (Park & Peterson, 2009b).
  • Total score on the VIA-IS (all 24 character strengths) correlated positively with life satisfaction (.44) indicating that strong character is associated with happiness and the good life (Ruch et al., 2007).
  • Parent’s strength of self-regulation was strongly associated with his or her child’s life satisfaction, but not their own (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
  • The 5 character strengths most highly related to life satisfaction are hope (r = .53), zest (r = .52), gratitude (r = .43), curiosity (r = .39), and love (r = .35). These strengths consistently and repeatedly show a robust, consistent relationship with life satisfaction (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). The correlations given were from a sample of 3907 individuals; see article for data on two additional samples.

Character Strengths and Health and Wellness

  • 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).
  • 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).

Character Strengths and Achievement

  • The character strengths – perseverance, love, gratitude, and hope – predict academic achievement in middle school students and college students (reported in Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Effective teachers (judged by the gains of their students on standardized tests) are those who are high in social intelligence, zest, and humor in a longitudinal study (reported in Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Popular students, as identified by teacher ratings, are more likely to score highly on civic strengths such as leadership and fairness, and temperance strengths of self-regulation, prudence, and forgiveness. Interestingly, none of the humanity strengths such as love and kindness were related to popularity (Park & Peterson, 2009b).
  • Academic achievement among school children is predicted by perseverance and temperance strengths (Peterson & Park, 2009).
  • Military leaders' character strength of humor predicted their followers' trust while followers’ character strength of perspective earned their leaders' trust (Sweeney et al., 2009). Strengths that predicted GPA in college students were perseverance, love of
    learning, humor, fairness, and kindness (Lounsbury et al., 2009).
  • Predictors of college satisfaction were hope, social intelligence, self-regulation, and fairness (Lounsbury et al., 2009).
  • After controlling for IQ, strengths of perseverance, fairness, gratitude, honesty, hope, and perspective predicted GPA (Park & Peterson, 2008a). 
  • Character strengths are related to achievement, life satisfaction, and well-being in children and youth (Park
    & Peterson, 2008a).
  • Higher hope levels are related to greater scholastic and social competence and to creativity levels (Onwuegbuzie, 1999).

Character Strengths and Mental Illness, Problems, and Trauma Recovery

  • Character strengths buffer people from vulnerabilities that can lead to depression and anxiety, such as the need for approval and perfectionism (Huta & Hawley, 2010).
  • Hope, kindness, social intelligence, self-regulation, and perspective buffer against the negative effects of stress and trauma (Park & Peterson, 2006c; Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Persistence, honesty, prudence, and love were substantially related to fewer externalizing problems such as aggression (Park & Peterson, 2008a).
  • Hope, zest, and leadership were substantially related to fewer problems with anxiety and depression (Park & Peterson, 2008a).

Character Strengths and Mindfulness

  • Increased amount of time spent using strengths has been found to correlate significantly with mindfulness (Jarden et al., 2012).
  • The integration of mindfulness and character strengths creates a synergy of mutual benefit that can foster a virtuous circle in which mindful awareness boosts strengths use which, in turn, enlivens mindfulness (Niemiec, Rashid, & Spinella, 2012).
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Updated 7/19/2013; 146 references

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