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Research Points to Two Main Reasons to Focus on Strengths

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

You have the power to positively influence your well-being by focusing on your highest character strengths. Research shows that if you have an active awareness of your character strengths you are 9x more likely to be flourishing. But, how do they work to create such a positive effect? Here are two ways:

1. Amplifying and growing the positive

“We can examine the importance of character strengths through a positive lens. Research has shown many positive benefits of using character strengths across physical, psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual domains. The benefits of character strengths have been demonstrated in many industries—especially business and education—but also in healthcare, coaching, and psychotherapy and counseling, to name a few. Specific benefits of character strengths have been linked with each of the main elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. They’ve been connected with many other benefits that help us amplify the positive in our life, such as self-acceptance, autonomy, goal progress, physical health, passion, and resilience. The newest research is showing that techniques for helping people boost their strengths can have important advantages over techniques that focus on correcting their deficits. But focusing on the positive is not the same as ignoring the negative.”

(from The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, p. 18).

The research is clear: character strengths are your unique pathways to those positive goals people pursue in life. In other words, name something realistic and positive you want in your life. Fill in the blank here: ______. With whatever you say, one or more of your character strengths -perhaps used in a way different from what you’re used to – can help you get there. They’re not just the pathway but they’re also the expression of fulfillment in life (see short summaries of hundreds of studies showing positive benefits of character strengths).

2. Learning from and reframing the negative

Research shows that humans demonstrate a number of biases in our thinking. One of those biases is the tendency to remember and be affected more by negative events than by positive events. Problems and upsetting emotions stick with us like glue. Strengths can help bring greater balance to this equation. We need negative experiences to learn from, motivate us, warn us, and help us grow. But those experiences should not define us. Reflecting on our strengths can help us offset those negative experiences, can help us figure out our natural best way to avoid them in the future, and can remind us that we have unique resources available to us in negative situations… Research studies have also shown that the character strengths help us manage problems more effectively. For example, using character strengths has been linked with less stress and improved coping in the workplace, less friction in classrooms, less depression, and fewer physical symptoms, to name just a few settings in which character strengths have been studied (from The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, pp. 18-19).

It’s not only comforting but exciting to know that you are carrying these “tools” within you wherever you go. They are there for the sorrow, the ecstasy, and the laundry.

Not sure where to start? Take a look at the “common language” of character strengths, found across the human race. Print up this 1 page description of the 24 strengths, post it in your home and workspace. Beginning to learn this language is a great place to start.