When I am at play with my small son, I realize how precious time is and so I attempt to be as present and mindful as possible in each activity. This mindfulness spurs my strength of curiosity as I await each word and reaction from him. Curiosity brings me to want to express other strengths such as humor to make him laugh. Not wanting to overdo my goofiness over and over, my mindfulness increases to tune in closely to him and the other possible character strengths that might benefit him, such as love as I provide him with positive feedback, teamwork as we work together on building blocks, or zest as we jump into an upbeat activity together.
Hence, round and round mindfulness and character strengths go – each influencing the other in a positive way. This is a virtuous circle that I believe can benefit everyone.
Why Combine Mindfulness & Character Strengths?
Until recently, mindfulness and strengths have been treated as separate areas of practice and research. I believe these robust areas of well-being are inseparable. Here are 12 ways that mindfulness can help your strengths practice and strengths of character can help your mindfulness practice.
- Character strengths provide mindfulness practitioners a common language to capture positive states and traits, many of which are organic outcomes of mindfulness.
- Character strengths offer individuals who practice mindfulness a way to deal with the vexing obstacles and barriers that naturally emerge during mindfulness practices (e.g., mind wandering).
- Character strengths elicit a greater awareness of the positive potential within us, and, taken a step further, offer a pathway to explore and develop character strengths.
- Character strengths create a positive synergy of mutual benefit that can foster a virtuous circle of positive impact. Mindful awareness boosts strengths use which, in turn, enlivens mindfulness. This synergy might actually be what underlies successful positive interventions.
- Character strengths foster individuals’ ability to respond appropriately and successfully in different situations; that is, the integration may promote psychological flexibility, help individuals find balance and practical wisdom in situations, and engender a growth mindset. Mindfulness facilitates increased self-awareness and potential for change activation by bringing one’s character strengths more clearly into view. Recent research shows that mindfulness serves as a path to see oneself as one really is.
- Mindfulness offers an anchor to the practice of character strengths as individuals often are uncertain what direction to take and how to work with strengths.
- Mindfulness motivates individuals to use their signature strengths more, which is particularly relevant since some research has found that only 1/3 of individuals have a meaningful awareness of their strengths. And for those that are aware, there is likely the issue of strengths blindness and taking one’s strengths for granted by downplaying them as “ordinary.” Mindfulness may be the ideal approach for remedying this “taking-strengths-for-granted” effect.
- Mindfulness provides a pathway for balanced character strength expression and a way to practice bringing character strengths to fruition. Mindfulness can serve as a way for individuals to improve their management of strengths overuse and underuse. Mindfulness and character strengths together help individuals get off the “hedonic treadmill,” which states that humans quickly adapt to the good or bad that is experienced in life. Mindfulness and character strengths help to counter this habitual nature of adaptation. The combination offers a counterbalance to the pervasive human tendency to focus on and become impacted by what’s wrong or bad. Mindfulness gives a direct and indirect boost to many strengths at once. One strength cannot be expressed without using other strengths. For example, how can a person practice cultivating gratitude without employing the strengths of perspective (e.g., reflecting back on their day with a wider lens when counting one’s blessings) or bravery (e.g., using courage to deliver a gratitude letter to someone)? Each strength has elements of the others within it, and moreover, each strength requires the use of other strengths to deploy it. Thus, mindfulness focused on boosting one strength is automatically assisting other strengths to some degree.