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A New Science of Peace and Strengths | April 2022: Volume 3, Issue 2

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec
character strengths briefing Dr. Ryan Niemiec

As we observe the horrors and sufferings of war from afar, we can’t help but crave and wish for peace. Peace psychology has been one of my areas of focus over the last few years conducting studies, establishing optimal practices, and engaging with leaders in the field. By peace, I am not referring exclusively to peace between countries or warring groups but peace that any individual, couple, or group has some control in creating.

Unbelievably, peace has been almost entirely omitted in the field of positive psychology. Yet, the area of character strengths is ripe for research and applications across each of the many “levels of peace,” which include personal/inner peace, relational peace, intragroup peace, and intergroup peace. In this briefing, I share some of my research and practice suggestions from an article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology that was in a special issue dedicated to Martin Seligman for his 80th birthday. For access to the article, click here.

There are many projects evolving in these areas. I personally invite you – researchers and practitioners – to e-mail me if you’d like to join me in this pivotal, exciting synergy of peace and character strengths. And take part in VIA’s first-ever, virtual peace retreat using mindfulness and strengths.

--Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA Education Director

NEW RESEARCH

I was curious which character strengths people believed they used most to create different kinds of peace in their life. I asked 25,302 people to share the top 2 character strengths they use to build up their inner peace, the top 2 character strengths they use to build up their relational peace, and the top 2 character strengths they use to successfully “keep the peace” by managing a political or religious conflict.

  • The highest two strengths reported for building inner peace were love and kindness.

This reflects the emerging research on turning character strengths inward for your own self-care and the value of a related practice with research support, known as loving-kindness meditation.

  • The highest two character strengths reported for building relational peace in a close relationship were honesty and love.

This indicates the value of truth-telling, being forthright, and acting with warmth and genuineness to enhance harmony in your relationships.

  • The highest two character strengths reported for managing tension, division, or conflict were perspective and curiosity.

This reflects the importance of making an effort to attend to the views of others, to ask questions rather than state opinions, and to value understanding over being right.

PRACTICE CONSIDERATIONS

There are countless interventions that can be studied in the area of peace and character strengths. In the article, I suggest three main levels of character strengths. Each of these levels dovetails with the various peace psychology levels (personal peace, relational peace, group peace, etc.). This reveals a matrix of possible interventions that can be tested by researchers and practitioners. The suggested character strengths levels for practical application are the following:

  1. Specific strengths:

Each of the 24 strengths can be applied to foster peace. For example, a person can deliberately use prudence to pause to think before they speak out of anger with their partner and thereby build more relational peace, while a leader may decide to use humility to build intragroup peace by listening and validating each teammates’ views on a topic.

  1. Character strengths concepts:

There are a variety of character strengths concepts relevant for peace, such as, signature strengths, lesser strengths, happiness strengths, phasic strengths, strengths overuse, and strengths underuse. For example, a person might step up with their situational strength/phasic strength of bravery to face the adversity of fellow group members who are ostracizing someone. Another person might manage their overuse of self-criticism (judgment/critical thinking) to bring about greater inner peace.

  1. Character strengths dynamics:

This strengths level refers to the interaction and/or resulting dynamics among character strengths within oneself or between dyads or groups. Examples in which the complexity of peace can be readily applied include:

  • Character strengths combinations: bringing two or more strengths together.
  • Character strengths collisions: when two or more strengths are in conflict with one another and cause problems.
  • Giving and receiving strengths: the importance of not only expressing kindness, gratitude, humor, curiosity, etc. but simultaneously being adept at fully receiving these strengths.
  • The ordering effect: the relevance of expressing one particular strength prior to another particular strength.
  • The tempering effect: using one strength to manage the intensity/overuse of another strength.
  • The towing effect: using a signature strength to amplify an underused strength.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EARLY BIRD PRICING!

If you resonate with this briefing, you’ll be curious to know the VIA Institute will offer its first-ever, all-day peace retreat on May 20th. This will involve practicing mindful living, meditation, and character strengths all with the lens toward fostering greater peace. It will be a day of tremendous opportunity for insight and personal growth. Register by April 15, 2022 and save over $20 USD.

SUBSCRIBE TO BRIEFINGS

Every other month Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA's Education Director, sends a newsletter to connect with researchers, strengths practitioners and educators from around the world. He offers things such as a character strengths research finding, a practical nugget, and/or a character strengths story or dialogue he's found inspiring. His hope is that it will prime your day and week with character strengths. Also, let it serve as a reminder that you can reach out at anytime to share your study, your strength applications, and your latest innovations! This article captures a past newsletter. To receive newsletters in real-time, click to subscribe

Empowering You to Bring Out the Best in Others Using Character Strengths

Character strengths are a scientifically-validated pathway to help individuals improve their lives, work and relationships. The free VIA Survey, translated into over 40 languages, is the premier tool in the field of positive psychology that assesses an individual's character strengths. When you know your clients' or employees' strengths, you can guide them more effectively and authentically. Discover a host of resources for professionals.

References

Niemiec, R. M. (2022). Pathways to peace: Character strengths for personal, relational, intragroup, and intergroup peace. Journal of Positive Psychology, 17, 219-232. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.2016909