Ignite Your Strengths and Build a Life of Meaningful Stories

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

You have many stories to tell. In fact, each day is full of stories! Some might not seem significant, like the story of making your breakfast this morning or driving to work. However, others are incredibly important such as getting a new job, buying a house, or the birth of your child. Then, there are all the stories in between these such as a night out with an old friend, your giving money to a homeless person last night, and your working late on a project with three co-workers.

Listen to the stories around you. Listen to the stories within you.

You can spot the character strengths in every one of them. No exceptions. Some will have strengths pouring out of them, ultimately soaking in bravery, gratitude, hope, and curiosity. And for other stories, the strengths will be barely noticeable, yet still there. You used discipline and self-management (self-regulation) to brush your teeth, not to mention some subtle planning to carry out your morning routine (prudence).

There's a lot we can learn from another person's story. Take a look at one of the 50+ stories in The Power of Character Strengths. This is a 27-year-old daycare worker named Victoria. She was asked to share a story about her top character strength of hope. Here's what she said:

When I was growing up, there was a civil war in my country. No one in my family died because of it, but I was surrounded by poverty, hunger, and a lot of fear. We would hear gunfire all the time. Around the age of ten or eleven, I started to become aware that most people just seemed to struggle through it all, some people looked defeated by how hard their lives were, and then there were some who had this constant hope within them that something better was coming, and that they could take action to create that better future. Those people seemed to me to be the ones who did the best. Despite everything going on around them, they would glow. I decided then that that's the kind of person I was going to be. My hope for a better life was what motivated me to take action and come to this country. I took some basic jobs and started putting money together to pay for college. Now I work full-time and do my studies. I could have given up, sat back, and blindly hoped for a rescuer, or just settled for whatever was going to happen. But instead I thought, "I can do this. I can create a better life.” I took action, and it's my hope that helped make it all possible for me."

(from The Power of Character Strengths, p. 242)

What strengths do you spot in Victoria's story? I'm struck by how her strength of hope seemed to be not only this underlying process happening for her but also that she made a conscious effort to develop the strength. This strength (like the other 23 strengths) is sitting there in all the people around her. Some choose to make the most of that strength capacity, others do not. Perhaps the others turned to different character strengths to get through the difficult times? But, for Victoria, it was hope.

I'm also struck by how Victoria seemed to be propelled forward, almost automatically, by her hope. No matter what happened - how bad things got - she was going to keep this strength front and center. And, her hope opened the door to her expressing other character strengths. I spot perseverance and perspective in her story. These strengths seemed to give her something to reach for. This steadfast vision led her to persevere over all obstacles, keeping her action going, as well as keeping that wider view perspective to make it happen. Interestingly, perseverance and perspective are two of the five character strengths that most align with hope, from a scientific perspective.

What's Your Takeaway?

Talk to someone you're sitting next to on the bus or train. Ask a new coworker a question. Meet someone new in your neighborhood. Each person has a collection of stories that have shaped who they are. Listen to their stories. Spot the strengths. Tell them the strengths you notice. You'll see the resulting glow in their eyes as they light up when talking about their strengths. And, you'll feel happier in those moments.

Build your strengths-spotting today with our new strengths book:

Changing your life for the better starts with getting to know the real you. With our new book, The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, you can learn to ignite the strengths that are already within you. In this book, each of the 24 strengths are explained in full detail. It also includes a 4-step program that helps you tap into your greatest strengths and truly thrive in both your personal and professional life.

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