A depressed client of mine once remarked- “I found out I need to take my signature strengths pill every day.” She was speaking of the research-based psychology intervention of “use 1 of your signature strengths in a new way each day.”
Using her strengths was her way of connecting with her deeper self and was a way of expressing herself authentically to the world. It helped her cope with long-standing depression and embrace the good in her life.
Over the recent years I have found that one of the most overlooked pathways for boosting mental health is through the pathway of character strengths.
Consider these new mental health findings from the science of character:
- Using your signature strengths (those most core qualities of your identity) leads to long-term increases in happiness.
- Using your signature strengths is connected with long-term decreases in depression.
- Your character strengths act as buffers, helping to protect you from anxiety and depression.
- Using your character strengths is connected with better psychological well-being.
- Using your character strengths leads to improved mood the next day.
- Certain character strengths within you are connected with reduced mental health stigma.
- Inpatient clients experienced less hopelessness and increased optimism following the practice of several positive psychology exercises, including strengths use.
Considering these exciting findings, why is no one talking about character strengths use as a key to mental health?
One reason is this science of character is new, having emerged in the mid-2000's, and helping professionals are just now learning about these benefits.
In addition, humans have a strong negativity bias working against them. We are wired to attempt to solve problems, spot the negative, and manage what is wrong. We are quick to discount the positive or simply are blind to it, and therefore we are not accustomed to giving close attention to our core character strengths.
Yet another reason is more personal: Character strengths seem to be largely preconscious (to steal a term from Freud over a century ago). This means that these core personality characteristics are right below the surface of our awareness- they are not deeply unconscious nor are they part of much of our conscious awareness. Instead, they are immediately below our awareness, waiting to be tapped into.
This is why mindfulness meditation and deliberate practice of mindful strengths use are important. Bringing mindful attention to your strengths lifts them up to your surface.
There are many ways you can improve your mindful strengths use. I suggest a few below:
- Take the free VIA Survey to get your immediate rank-ordered results of character strengths.
- Scan through this list of the 24 universal character strengths and take notice of the 5-7 you see as most core to who you are.
- Consider a recent positive experience you had at work, school, or in one of your relationships. Replay the event in your mind. Then, bring to your attention the character strengths you brought forth most strongly.
Don't forget to take your strengths pill each day. It's the easiest medication you will ever take.