Character Strengths and Mindfulness
Summary of Research Findings
Two popular areas of positive psychology that have captured the attention of researchers and practitioners (and the general public) are mindfulness and character strengths. Character strengths are a natural part of the operational definition of mindfulness and few would disagree that there is a mutual, synergistic effect between the two.
- Randomized controlled trial of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) found MBSP led to significant improvements in health, engagement, meaning, and well-being; additional benefits for loneliness and negative emotions; and higher student retention rates the following year (Wingert et al., 2020).
Wingert, J. R., Jones, J. C., Swoap, R. A., & Wingert, H. M. (2020). Mindfulness-based strengths practice improves well-being and retention in undergraduates: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of American College Health. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2020.1764005
- Qualitative study of MBSP participants across several countries revealing a unique finding in mindfulness research that MBSP boosts positive relationships. Additional findings reveal substantial benefits to well-being, stress management, problem management, meaning in life, purpose in life, engagement, accomplishment, and sense of identity. Another finding is that certain obstacles to meditation are extremely common, including being too busy to practice, mind wandering too much, and forgetting to practice (Whelan-Berry & Niemiec, in press).
Whelan-Berry, K., & Niemiec, R. M. (2021). Integrating mindfulness and character strengths for improved well-being, stress, and relationships: A mixed-methods analysis of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice. International Journal of Wellbeing, 11(1), 38-50. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v11i2.1545
- A review of MBSP, the core concepts, the latest research, and its best practices. This chapter is in an edited book of 31 chapters on 31 mindfulness-based programs/applications, and MBSP is one of two that targets human flourishing.
Bretherton, R., & Niemiec, R. M. (2020). Mindfulness-based strengths practice. In I. Ivtzan (Ed.), Mindfulness-based programmes (pp. 385-402). New York: Routledge.
- Highlights the need for more research on the emotion of joy and argues for the practices of mindfulness and character strengths and MBSP as a central pathway for cultivating joy (Casioppo, 2020).
Casioppo, D. (2020). The cultivation of joy: practices from the Buddhist tradition, positive psychology, and yogic philosophy. Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(1), 67-73. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1685577
- An adaptation of MBSP for the education context for adolescents found it increased mindfulness and partially increased achievement, perseverance, and love of learning. In addition, 25% of grade point average was predicted by mindfulness, perseverance, prudence, and openness to learning character strengths (Güldal & Satan, 2020).
Güldal, Ş., & Satan, A. (2020). The effect of mindfulness based psychoeducation program on adolescents’ character strengths, mindfulness and academic achievement. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01153-w
- A study comparing MBSP (mindfulness-based strengths practice), MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), and controls found the while the two mindfulness-based programs boosted well-being and job satisfaction and reduced stress significantly more than controls, it was MBSP that was most effective for boosting task performance (using supervisor ratings of employees) (Pang & Ruch, 2019a).
Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019a). Fusing character strengths and mindfulness interventions: Benefits for job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 150-162. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000144
- Two studies that provide further evidence for the underlying theory and approach of mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP), that mindfulness and character strengths mutually impact one another and that when used as practices can heighten this impact. The study found that meditators are higher in the following strengths than non-meditators: spirituality, gratitude, appreciation of beauty, love of learning, and curiosity. The study also found that the character strengths most highly correlated with mindfulness include hope, bravery, curiosity, social intelligence, and zest (all between .44 and .48) (Pang & Ruch, 2019b).
Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019b). The mutual support model of mindfulness and character strengths. Mindfulness. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01103-z
- In a study examining mindfulness and different forms of humor, MBSP and MBSR were found to significantly increase the strength of humor compared to controls and the effects for the MBSP group were the strongest by a substantial margin (Hofmann et al., 2019).
Hofmann, J., Heintz, S., Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). Differential relationships of light and darker forms of humor with mindfulness. Applied Research in Quality of Life. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9698-9
- Study of the happy classrooms programme which substantially weaves in mindfulness and character strengths for the classroom. The programme was found to promote psychological well-being and positive classroom climate as well as reduce school aggression by increasing levels of mindfulness (Lombas et al., 2019).
Lombas, A. S., Jiménez, T. I., Arguís-Rey, R., Hernández-Paniello, S., Valdivia-Salas, S., & Martín-Albo, J. (2019). Impact of the happy classrooms programme on psychological well-being, school aggression, and classroom climate. Mindfulness. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01132-8
- Discusses the integration of mindfulness and character strengths to enhance intrapersonal awareness and interpersonal effectiveness. It makes the case and offers several strategies for integrating these areas as a powerful combination to build supervisory relationships and help direct supervisees toward growth (Sharp & Rhinehart, 2018).
Sharp, J. E., & Rhinehart, A. J. (2018). Infusing mindfulness and character strengths in supervision to promote beginning supervisee development. Journal of Counselor Practice, 9(1), 64-80. DOI: 10.22229/adl217384
- Discusses the relevance and importance of bringing mindfulness and character strengths, including the need for an adaptation of MBSP, to support people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (Shogren et al., 2017).
Shogren, K. A., Singh, N., Niemiec, R. M., & Wehmeyer, M. (2017). Character strengths and mindfulness. In M. Wehmeyer (Ed.), Oxford handbooks online. http://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935291.013.77
- Mindfulness and character strengths were found to work together to facilitate mental well-being. In particular, temperance and interpersonal character strengths explained the relationship between mindful observing and flourishing, and a longitudinal analysis found that the observing facet of mindfulness predicted temperance strengths which then predicted flourishing. The observing facet of mindfulness was positively related to interpersonal-, intellectual-, and temperance-related character strengths (Duan & Ho, 2017).
Duan, W., & Ho, S. M. Y. (2017). Does being mindful of your character strengths enhance psychological wellbeing? A longitudinal mediation analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9864-z
- Introduces the concept of “heartfulness” into character strengths work arguing that mindful awareness of character strengths catalyzes our “being” in which we are called to act, but it is heartfulness, or the meaningful “doing,” that puts character strengths into action toward the common good (Niemiec, 2017).
Niemiec, R. M. (2017). On heartfulness. In G. Slemp, M. A. White, & S. Murray (Eds.), Future directions in well-being: Education, organizations, and policy (pp. 123-128). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
- Discusses adaptations and applications of mindfulness and character strengths for teachers and parents designed to boost strengths-based thinking and positive beliefs in children, and builds from activities focused on moment-making, meaning-making, memory-making, and mindset-making (Lottman, Zawaly, & Niemiec, 2017).
Lottman, T., Zawaly, S., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Well-being and well-doing: Bringing mindfulness and character strengths to the early childhood classroom and home. In C. Proctor (Ed.), Positive psychology interventions in practice (pp. 83-105). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
- Examines the empirical links between three of the most popular areas of positive psychology and offers practical interventions tailored to the three areas (Littman-Ovadia & Niemiec, 2017).
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Meaning, mindfulness, and character strengths. In P. Russo-Netzer, S. E. Schulenberg, & A. Batthyany (Eds.), To thrive, to cope, to understand: Meaning in positive and existential psychology (pp. 383-405). New York: Springer.
- Character strengths explained the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and psychological well-being, thus supporting the argument that mindfulness training can be offered to help participants increase awareness and use of character strengths (Duan, 2016).
Duan, W. (2016). Mediation role of individual strengths in dispositional mindfulness and mental health. Personality and Individual Differences, 99, 7–10.
- Pilot study of mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP), comparing it to a non-randomized control group and finding MBSP led to significant elevations in flourishing, life satisfaction, engagement, and signature strengths use (Ivtzan, Niemiec, & Briscoe, 2016).
Ivtzan, I., Niemiec, R. M., & Briscoe, C. (2016). A study investigating the effects of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) on wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(2), 1-13. http://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v6i2.1
- Reviews the literature as well as practical implications of mindfulness and character strengths for gifted populations; offers several practical strategies teachers and professions can use with this population (Sharp, Niemiec, & Lawrence, 2016).
Sharp, J. E., Niemiec, R. M., & Lawrence, C. (2016). Using mindfulness-based strengths practices with gifted populations. Gifted Education International. http://doi.org/10.1177/0261429416641009
- Reviews the integration of mindfulness and character strengths, offers three case studies applying Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) successfully in the business/organizational setting, and offers anecdotal support that MBSP boosts positive relationships and helps people manage problems (Niemiec & Lissing, 2015).
Niemiec, R. M., & Lissing, J. (2016). Mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) for enhancing well-being, life purpose, and positive relationships. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in positive psychology: The science of meditation and wellbeing (pp. 15-36). New York: Routledge.
- Theoretical article offer insights to the debate around whether the ethical and Buddhist foundations of mindfulness should be implicit or explicit in mindfulness-based programs and argues that the psychological science provides substantive options for researchers and clinicians. One example is mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP), which is described as the first program to use mindfulness to explicitly target what is best in human beings (Baer, 2015).
Baer, R. (2015). Ethics, values, virtues, and character strengths in mindfulness-based interventions: A psychological science perspective. Mindfulness, 6, 956–969. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0419-2
- Discusses theory and application on the integration of mindfulness and character strengths for the work of psychologists (Niemiec, 2015).
Niemiec, R. M. (2015). Mindfulness and character strengths: Advancing psychology to the next level. New Jersey Psychologist, 65(3), 22-24.
- Experimental data supporting the use of character strengths (signature strengths or non-signature strengths) for improving the well-being of individuals including those who are already mindful (Lykins, 2014).
Lykins, E. (2014). Mindfulness, character strengths, and well-being. Presentation at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Austin, Texas. http://doi.org/10.1037/e578192014-915
- Offers theory, research, and practice in integrating mindfulness and character strengths in the training of physicians, medical staff, and medical students, with an emphasis on practical applications (Niemiec, 2014).
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) for physicians: Integrating core areas to promote positive health. In M. W. Snyder, Positive health: Flourishing lives, well-being in doctors (pp. 247-263). Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.
- Initial pilot data and qualitative reviews of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), an 8-week program that integrates and builds character strengths and mindfulness, is beneficial in boosting well-being, signature strengths, engagement, purpose, and positive relationships (Niemiec, 2014).
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
- Mindfulness helps to overcome blind spots in self-knowledge, such as the quality and quantity of information individuals have about themselves and how people process information about themselves (Carlson, 2013).
Carlson, E. N. (2013). Overcoming the barriers to self-knowledge: Mindfulness as a path to seeing yourself as you really are. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8 (2), 173-186.
- Explores the empirical connection between virtues and happiness, including their bidirectional relationship as well as issues of balance among virtue and character strengths use (Kesebir & Diener, 2013).
Kesebir, P., & Diener, E. (2013). A virtuous cycle: The relationship between happiness and virtue. SSRN. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2309566
- Increased amount of time spent using strengths has been found to correlate significantly with mindfulness (Jarden et al., 2012).
Jarden, A., Jose, P., Kashdan, T., Simpson, O., McLachlan, K., & Mackenzie, A. (2012). [International Well-being Study]. Unpublished raw data.
- 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).
Niemiec, R. M., Rashid, T., & Spinella, M. (2012). Strong mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness and character strengths. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34 (3), 240-253.
- In examining principles of mindful living, 16 character strengths interventions are suggested to enhance and support healthy, mindful living (Niemiec, 2012).
Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Mindful living: Character strengths interventions as pathways for the five mindfulness trainings. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (1), 22-33.
- Researchers have proposed the possibility that if everyone has signature strengths and if mindfulness can enhance their use then it’s possible mindfulness could be beneficial for most people (Baer & Lykins, 2011).
Baer, R. A., & Lykins, E. L. M. (2011). Mindfulness and positive psychological functioning. In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward (pp. 335–348). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Mindfulness and curiosity each help to align individuals’ actual self (people’s beliefs about who they think they are) and their ideal self (the image people would like to be; Ivtzan, Gardner, & Smailova, 2011). This relates to the character strengths work of knowing one’s core self or identity.
Ivtzan, Gardner, & Smailova (2011). Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing factors to wellbeing and the process of closing the self-discrepancy gap. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1 (3), 316-326.
- Mindfulness provides exposure or a new perspective of one’s internal and external environments (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007).
Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18 (4), 211-237.
- Mindfulness may facilitate successful self-regulation and self-regulation may facilitate greater mindfulness (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007).
Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). Relating mindfulness and self-regulatory processes. Psychological Inquiry, 18 (4), 255-258.
- The two-part, operational definition for mindfulness by 11 leading scientists embodies two character strengths – mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance (Bishop et al., 2004).
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11, 230–241.
Updated May 2021