“That is a strength? I never thought of it that way…” that is what one workshop participant said when we debriefed character strengths. Her top strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence is not something she had ever identified as a strength or even special. And yet, as she explored that strength further, she started to recognize that (a) not everyone experiences appreciation as deeply as she does (b) this strength is her go-to strength to create balance, perspective, hope and happiness.
For those of you who have not read about Character Strengths before, here are five facts to know:
- They are the backbone of the science of Positive Psychology – aka the science of peak performance or the study of human flourishing.
- Researched by Doctors Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson and a team of dozens of experts, supported by the Mayerson Foundation they are:
- Easily recognized
- Supported and revered by society
- Elevating to self and others
- There are 24 strengths classified into 6 virtues (See graphic below from the VIA Institute on Character)
- The VIA Institute on Character was established to further the research into and practice of Character Strengths.
- The free VIA Character Strengths assessment, which provides you with your rank order of the 24 strengths, takes 15-20 minutes to complete, is available in multiple languages and has been taken by over 7,000,000 people to date.
The Cream of the Crop
My top character strengths – my signature strengths – consistently include Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Fairness and Gratitude. Others wander in and out of my top five, but my top 10 -12 stay pretty consistent too…
My #1 strength is always Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (hereafter Appreciation!). It is core to who I am. I cannot imagine a day without it. But what does having a top strength of Appreciation mean?
Appreciation is ranked as a top strength (in the top five out of 24) by approximately ¼ - 1/3 of the population . After 20 years of research into character strengths, we have not yet discovered much about Appreciation. It is not one of the five happiness strengths (Hope, Curiosity, Gratitude, Zest & Love). It is not strongly correlated with any of the seven team roles of Idea Creator, Information Gatherer, Decision Maker, Influencer, Energizer, Implementer or Relationship Manager. It does not particularly support lower stress or higher self-esteem. All in all, we don’t have much to say about Appreciation as a strength and what it might be helpful for. In fact, in a search of the VIA Institute on Character website list of over 400 pieces of research into character strengths, I could find only one reference to Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
And yet, as important as my other strengths are to me, I would be nothing without Appreciation. In my mind it is the accelerator for all my other strengths. Curiosity is so much more gratifying when I sprinkle in appreciation of the research, the skill, the work that has gone into a research paper or a new gadget. As I ask, “what does that do?” I am also thinking, “who came up with that? It is amazing that someone could think of that!” As I am trying to be fair and take the interests of all parties into account, I cannot help but think about, the way in which each person got to where they are, their unique experience of life, the unique path they have followed and to appreciate that they are special.
As I am feeling grateful, it is magnified by being specific about what I am grateful for – appreciating the skill of a musician or … my dentist! The beauty of the surroundings at my house or during my walk. It is so much easier to feel gratitude when I have Appreciation to shore it up!