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Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life

Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life

BY Michelle McQuaid

Most of us aspire to living a full life – one that serves us and others well. But figuring out what constitutes a good life and how we pull it off is the work of a life time for many of us. So where can should you start?

Shannon Polly and Kathryn Britton in their book Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life suggest a key step in living a full life is to use your character strengths in service of yourself, your family, your workplace, your community and your world. You see character strengths represent the best in each of us, and influence our disposition to feel and act in certain ways. They are those qualities that are valued in ourselves, our work colleagues, families, friends and in our leaders.

Why do character strengths matter?

Shannon and Kathryn explain that researchers have found that an awareness of your character strengths is likely to lead to greater energy and involvement in school, family and work. Studies also suggest that learning how to recognize and reflect other people’s strengths can make us better parents, teachers, bosses, friends and mentors. And that having a language to talk about character strengths can make us more aware of what is strong and worth nourishing in each other.

So how can you develop your character strengths and bring out best in others?

Based on the research of Dr. Christopher Peterson Shannon and Kathryn’s book gives you a practical, creative and playful guide to applying your strengths in your everyday life. For example, researchers are finding that when you develop an awareness of your strengths; explore ways to mindfully think about their development and; then apply them by taking action, you can feel more engaged and positive about your work and your life.

Finding ways to use one of your signature strengths – usually your top four to six strengths – in new ways each day in your workplace has also been found  to boost your confidence, satisfaction, resilience, mental and physical health. An example of this is shared in the book about how a woman who, after battling depression and anxiety for many years, discovered the power of a daily ‘signature strength pill’ – finding new ways to use her strengths each day.  She reported:

“When I take a fresh approach with a signature strength, my ceiling opens up and I see the world more clearly. I see the blueness of the sky and the greenness of the tress. I want to connect with people. I feel better. I’m taking action and I’m taking action with my core parts.”

Of course the goal, like any tool, should be to use your strengths in intelligent ways by being aware of which strengths, in which amounts, work best in which situations. After all we each have a tendency to underplay and overplay our strengths at times.

This book is a great way to become more familiar with your character strengths. Part 1 contains a chapter for each of the twenty-four character strengths and includes: a definition of the character strength, articles showing how the character strength show up in daily life, a list of ways to build the strength and finally a passage to read aloud to help embody the character strength. Part 2 shows applications of the character strengths in different contexts: with small children, with disadvantaged youth, in business settings, even on vacations and contains clear tips for putting your signature strengths into practice.

Here is a taste of some of what the book offers for three of the most common signature strengths:

  • Fairness – is about being concerned that everyone gets a fair chance. People who are strong in fairness tend to be committed to social justice and make judgments about what is morally right in a given situation, even if others actions may not align with this. You can build fairness by fostering a reputation as an ‘includer’ through actively encouraging the equal participation of everyone in discussions or activities.
  • Curiosity – involves interest, novelty-seeking and openness to new experiences and knowledge. People who are strong in curiosity actively seek out variety and challenges. You can build curiosity by expanding your knowledge in an area of interest for half an hour at least three times a week.  This may involve reading magazines, books or journals, searching the internet, or speaking to an expert in the field.
  • Kindness – is acting out of true regard for common humanity and others worthiness. People who are strong in kindness are aware of the needs of others and are willing to meet these needs without expecting anything in return. You can build this strength by writing kinder and softer words when interacting with people via email or texts.

You can read the book cover-to-cover or simply dive into the strengths you want to learn most about.    Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Christopher Peterson, the book is a testament to his legacy of helping each of us live fuller lives.

Want more?

  • Grab a copy of the book Character Strengths Matter.
  • Take the free VIA survey to discover your strengths.
  • Download a copy of my free Strengths e-book to find new ways to apply your strengths in the workplace.
  • Click here to read more on developing your strengths.
  • Click here to read more on developing your strengths by acting ‘as if’.

How could you use your character strengths to lead a full life?

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