Character Strengths And Life Satisfaction

Summary of Research Findings

For obvious reasons, studies that examine happiness, life satisfaction, and related concepts of well-being are some of the more popular areas of inquiry in positive psychology. Since the onset of positive psychology, researchers have been interested in those character strengths that correlate highest with happiness. As is clear below, strong patterns have emerged (e.g., zest, hope, gratitude, love, and curiosity frequently emerge with the highest correlations with life satisfaction). Research Articles

  • Study of 517 adults comparing character strengths with measures of PERMA and subjective well-being. Significant connections were found between character strengths and these well-being measures but PERMA was not found to be distinct from the original model of subjective well-being put forth in 1984 by Ed Diener across the 24 strengths (Goodman et al., 2017).
    Goodman, F. R., Disabato, D. J., Kashdan, T. B., & Kauffman, S. B. (2017). Measuring well-being: A comparison of subjective well-being and PERMA. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1388434
  • Comprehensive review of the research showing the systematic link between character strengths and different aspects of well-being. Across the literature, here are a few examples of the patterns of significant correlations found and discussed in the chapter: positive affect (curiosity, zest, hope), negative affect (honesty, forgiveness, humility), environmental mastery (zest, hope), personal growth (love of learning, curiosity), purpose in life (self-regulation, perseverance, curiosity, zest, hope), autonomy (honesty, bravery, perspective), self-acceptance (zest, hope), and positive relationships (love, social intelligence) (Harzer, 2016).
    Harzer, C. (2016). The eudaimonics of human strengths: The relations between character strengths and well-being. In J. Vitterso (Ed.), Handbook of Eudaimonic Well-Being (pp. 307-322). Switzerland: Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-42445-3_20
  • Examined the links between character strengths and various areas of well-being in 687 adults in Argentina finding that according to laypersons, character strengths are important elements of life fulfillment. Across the five areas, the links included: love, honesty, and zest (personal well-being), perseverance and self-regulation (achieving goals), honesty and gratitude (personal relationships), teamwork and fairness (work relationships), and honesty and fairness (contributing to a better country) (Castro Solano & Cosentino, 2016).
    Castro Solano, A., & Cosentino, A. C. (2016). The relationships between character strengths and life fulfillment in the view of lay-people in Argentina. Interdisciplinaria Revista de Psicología y Ciencias Afines, 33(1), 65-80.  
  • A fascinating study that examined character strengths and the “fully functioning” person (Carl Rogers’ theory) within young people (aged 16-19). The results included findings that the fully functioning person is high in life satisfaction and positive thoughts/feelings, low in anxiety and negative thoughts/feelings, and is positively correlated with the character strengths of zest, bravery, honesty, leadership, and spirituality and negatively correlated with humility and fairness (Proctor, Tweed, & Morris, 2016).
    Proctor, C., Tweed, R., & Morris, D. (2016). The Rogerian fully functioning person: A positive psychology perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(5), 503-529. DOI:  
  • Intervention study focusing on the character strength of humor in 632 adults and found that all five interventions boosted happiness for 3 to 6 months, and all lowered depression only in the short-run (immediately after the intervention). The 3 most successful interventions were: writing about three funny things and why they happened at the end of each day; applying humor; and counting funny things (Wellenzohn, Proyer, & Ruch, 2016).
    Wellenzohn, S., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2016). Humor-based online positive psychology interventions: A randomized placebo-controlled long-term trial. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1137624  
  • Among a multicultural population of young adults in the United Arab Emirates the character strengths of transcendence were associated with greater levels of happiness and better mental health, while the character strengths of temperance/restraint were associated with less happiness (Petkari & Ortiz-Tallo, 2016).
    Petkari, E., & Ortiz-Tallo, M. (2016). Towards youth happiness and mental health in the united arab emirates: The path of character strengths in a multicultural population. Journal of Happiness Studies. Np. doi:  
  • This study found that self-esteem partially explained the connection between life satisfaction and strengths use and this effect was stronger for students with low to moderate levels of positive affect (Douglass & Duffy, 2015).
    Douglass, R., & Duffy, R. (2015). Strengths use and life satisfaction: A moderated mediation approach. . Journal of Happiness Studies  
  • Several character strengths (e.g., gratitude, curiosity, perseverance, meaning) were examined from an international community sample of 755 individuals to examine their predictive value in goal attainment and changes in well-being. Curiosity and perseverance predicted the strongest increase in goal attainment over time, but it was only curiosity that boosted the effects of goal attainment on life satisfaction two times across a 6-month period (Sheldon et al., 2015).
    Sheldon, K.M., Jose, P.E., Kashdan, T.B., & Jarden, A. (2015). Personality, effective goal-striving, and enhanced well-being: Comparing 10 candidate personality strengths.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  
  • Study found that 23 character strengths (with the only exception being humility) were significantly correlated with well-being, wherein the top 3 character strengths were hope, gratitude, and love and the lowest (still significant) were prudence, judgment, and self-regulation. Since character strengths relate to one another, the researchers examined which strengths stood alone as predictors of well-being after accounting for the other strengths and found gratitude and love of learning to be highest with love, hope, honesty, and humor not far behind. A savvy character strengths researcher might wonder why zest was not in the top list of well-being correlates (as it seems to be in most other well-being studies) and part of the reason might be this sample was part of a study to create a scale for introverts and if the sample skewed mostly toward introverts perhaps this tell us something about how introverts might find a different, less energetic/zestful pathway to well-being? (Kaufman, 2015).
    Kaufman, S. B., Greenberg, S., & Cain, S. (2015, August 2). Which character strengths are most predictive of well-being. Scientific American. Article found here.  
  • Among university students in Seoul, Korea, the intellectual character strengths predicted greater subjective well-being in regard to various emotion, social, and psychological measures (Lim, 2015).
    Lim, Y. J. (2015). Relations between virtues and positive mental health in a Korean population: A multiple indicators multiple causes (MIMIC) model approach. International Journal of Psychology, 50(4), 272-278. DOI:  
  • In a representative sample of nearly 1,000 German-speaking adults in Switzerland, character strengths were examined across different stages of life, including age groups of 27-36, 37-46, and 47-57. Across age groups, hope, zest, and humor showed the most consistently high correlations with well-being (Martinez-Marti & Ruch, 2014).
    Martinez-Marti, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2014). Character strengths and well-being across the life span: data from a representative sample of German-speaking adults living in Switzerland. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1253. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01253
  • Character strengths were shown to have the biggest impact on well-being in a study examining contact with nature, the big 5, and character strengths (Korotkov & Godbout, 2014).
    Korotkov, D., & Godbout, A. (2014). Perosnality, motivation, nature, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 60, S65.  
  • Several of the character strengths that have shown repeatedly to correlate highly with life satisfaction were put to the test. Participants were assigned to an experimental group targeting those strengths (e.g., zest, hope, gratitude, curiosity, and humor), another group targeting strengths with lower correlations with life satisfaction (e.g., appreciation of beauty/excellence, creativity, kindness, love of learning, perspective), or a wait-list control. The first group showed the strongest improvements in life satisfaction, however, participants in both intervention groups subjectively reported higher gains in well-being than the control group (Proyer, Ruch, & Buschor, 2012).
    Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Buschor, C. (2012). Testing strengths-based interventions: A preliminary study on the effectiveness of a program targeting curiosity, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest for enhancing life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies.  
  • In a sample of 334 Swiss adults and 634 peer (informant) ratings, the results converged suggesting that hope, zest, and curiosity (and gratitude and love) have key roles in the connection between character strengths and life satisfaction. Informant reports also related positively to the endorsement of pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Buschor, Proyer, & Ruch, 2013).
    Buschor, C., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2013). Self- and peer-rated character strengths: How do they relate to satisfaction with life and orientations to happiness? Journal of Positive Psychology, 8 (2), 116-127.  
  • In a study examining strength factors, the transcendence strengths were the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and positive affect, while all the strength factors related to self-efficacy in which the leadership factor was the strongest predictor. This research highlights how different strengths are relevant for different positive outcomes (Weber et al., 2013).
    Weber, M., Ruch, W., Littman-Ovadia, H., Lavy, S., & Gai, O. (2013). Relationships among higher-order strengths factors, subjective well-being, and general self-efficacy – The case of Israeli adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 322-327.  
  • In addition to replication of the connection between hope, gratitude, love, zest, and curiosity with life satisfaction, the strengths that were the best predictors of future life satisfaction were hope and spirituality (Proyer et al., 2011).
    Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wyss, T., & Ruch, W. (2011). The relation of character strengths to past, present, and future life satisfaction among German-speaking women. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3 (3), 370-384.  
  • Three groups emerged in a study of 27 nations and routes to happiness: nations high in pleasure & engagement; those high in engagement & meaning; and those low in pleasure, engagement, & meaning. Nations highest in each route were: South Africa (pleasure), Switzerland (engagement), and South Korea (meaning). All pathways predicted life satisfaction, wherein meaning & engagement are most robust (replication; Park, Peterson, & Ruch, 2009).
    Park, N., Peterson, C., & Ruch, W. (2009). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction in twenty-seven nations. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4 (4), 273-279.  
  • Pleasure, engagement, and meaning predicted life satisfaction in both Australian and US samples, and replicated the finding that there are stronger relationships with the latter two (Vella-Brodrick, Park, & Peterson, 2009).
    Vella-Brodrick, D. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009). Three ways to be happy: Pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Findings from Australian and US samples. Social Indicators Research, 90, 165-179.
  • Viewing one’s work as a “calling” in which one’s work is viewed as a source of fulfillment that is socially useful and personal meaningful, rather than as financial reward or career advancement, is predicted by the character strength of zest (Peterson et al., 2009).
    Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.
  • Among youth, the character strengths most related to life satisfaction are love, gratitude, hope, and zest; very young children (ages 3-9) described by their parents as happy are also noted as showing love, hope, and zest (Park & Peterson, 2009b).
    Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009b). Strengths of character in schools. In R. Gilman, E. S. Huebner, & M. J. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 65-76). New York: Routledge.
  • In a survey of the VIA classification with 839 Croatians, only curiosity and zest were consistently part of the top 5 strengths linked to attaining pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010).
    Brdar, I., & Kashdan, T.B. (2010). Character strengths and well-being in Croatia: An empirical investigation of structure and correlates. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 151-154.
  • Replication study finding similarly strong (e.g., hope, zest) and weak (e.g., modesty, appreciation of beauty & excellence) correlations with life satisfaction in a sample of Swiss, Germans, and Austrians; life satisfaction was highest among the Swiss. Total score on the VIA-IS (all 24 character strengths) correlated positively with life satisfaction (.44) indicating that strong character is associated with happiness and the good life. Life satisfaction increased with degree of virtuousness (development of character strengths) but was more apparent of an increase for the less virtuous.
    Ruch, W., Huber, A., Beermann, U., & Proyer, R. T. (2007). Character strengths as predictors of the "good life" in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In Romanian Academy, "George Barit" Institute of History, Department of Social Research (Ed.), Studies and researches in social sciences (Vol. 16). Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Argonaut Press, 123-131.
  • The character strengths most associated with the meaning route to happiness are religiousness, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity (Peterson et al., 2007).
    Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beerman, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149-156.
  • The character strengths most associated with the engagement route to happiness are zest, curiosity, hope, perseverance, and perspective (Peterson et al., 2007).
    Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beerman, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149-156.
  • The character strengths most associated with the pleasure route to happiness are humor, zest, hope, social intelligence, and love (Peterson et al., 2007).
    Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beerman, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149-156.
  • Among young adults from the US and Japan, happiness was associated with zest, hope, curiosity, and gratitude (Shimai et al., 2006).
    Shimai, S., Otake, K., Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Convergence of character strengths in American and Japanese young adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 311-322.
  • Parent’s strength of self-regulation was strongly associated with his or her child’s life satisfaction, but not their own (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
    Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006a). Character strengths and happiness among young children: Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 323-341.
  • The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005).
    Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41.
  • The 5 character strengths most highly related to life satisfaction are hope (r = .53), zest (r = .52), gratitude (r = .43), curiosity (r = .39), and love (r = .35). These strengths consistently and repeatedly show a robust, consistent relationship with life satisfaction (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). The correlations given were from a sample of 3907 individuals; see article for data on two additional samples.
    Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
  • The character strengths least related to life satisfaction (weak association) are modesty/humility, creativity, appreciation of beauty & excellence, judgment/open-mindedness, and love of learning (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).
    Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.  



Updated 4/26/2018







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