Character Strengths: The Foundation of a Fulfilled Life
As a guidance counsellor working in an adult learning centre, I support adults who are struggling to find a place where they fit in the new world of work. In my view, it is essential for individuals going through a work transition to have a certain sense of hope for the future. It helps if they take the time to thoughtfully assess their needs so that they don’t jump frantically on the first job offer that comes their way. Doing so may put them at risk of experiencing another setback. I like to introduce my clients to the concept of character strengths — hope being just one of many strengths — and how they can be leveraged to create a solid foundation for a fulfilled life.
The New World of Work: How Did We Get Here?
The world of work has undergone a profound transformation in the past twenty years; so much so that, at the dawn of the 21st century, many economists were predicting the coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As Klaus Schwab writes in his article The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”
Such a profound transformation of the labor market, coupled with the arrival of a pandemic that has spread across the globe, dramatically impacts individuals who are trying to navigate through these challenging and uncertain times. Every day, I see the effect on my clients in my work as a guidance counsellor. Many struggle to feel any sense of hope. But, I take the time to coach them on strategies for uncovering hope, along with other character strengths they may possess.
Hopefulness in a Career Transition: Easier Said Than Done, Right?
I understand how difficult it can be for a person to remain hopeful during a career transition, let alone an undesired one. However, I believe, and I have witnessed in my practice, that being aware of our skills and strengths can help us increase self-confidence and regain a sense of hope for the future. Besides the usual skills assessment, I like to introduce the concept of character strengths to my clients using the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. This heavy 800-page work by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman usually makes quite an impact when it lands on my desk!
I explain to my clients that these authors — leaders in the field of positive psychology — studied and measured character strengths, just as other researchers have studied the symptoms of mental disorders in the past, to come up with a recognized classification of 24 different strengths organized under 6 core virtues. Knowing that there is actual science behind the study of human strengths usually decreases skepticism and catches people’s attention.
As the authors state, “We believe that character strengths are the bedrock of the human condition and that strength-congruent activity represents an important route to the psychological good life.”
The idea is everyone possesses signature strengths that not only help them cope with adversity, but that also lead them to live fulfilled lives through effort and the willful choice and pursuit of activities related to those strengths.
What are the 24 Character Strengths?
Each of the 24 character strengths listed below (under the heading of the relevant core virtue) is accompanied by a short definition. All definitions were taken directly from Peterson and Segilman’s book, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.
Can you identify the signature strengths that help you strive to cope with adversity and reach fulfillment?
Strengths of WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE
- CREATIVITY: When a person can produce ideas and behaviors that are recognizably original, surprising, or unusual and that make a positive contribution to that person’s life or life of others.
- CURIOSITY: When a person pursues experiential novelty, variety, and challenge. Simply put, it is an openness to experience.
- OPEN-MINDEDNESS: Refers to a way of thinking that can be described by terms such as flexible, broad-minded, and open. More generally called “judgement.”
- LOVE OF LEARNING: When a person is positively motivated to acquire new skills and knowledge.
- PERSPECTIVE: Refers to the ability to take stock of life in large terms, in ways that make sense to oneself and others. It is an accumulation of knowledge and experience that is used deliberately to improve well-being.
Strengths of COURAGE
- BRAVERY: It is the ability to do what needs to be done despite fear.
- PERSISTENCE: Includes the ability to finish what one has started, keeping on despite obstacles, achieving closure, staying on task. It means being able to overcome boredom, frustration, and difficulty and to combat the temptation to do something easier and perhaps more pleasurable.
- INTEGRITY: Includes the genuine presentation of oneself to others (in other words, authenticity or sincerity), as well as an internal sense of moral coherence.
- VITALITY: Refers to feeling alive, full of zest, and displaying enthusiasm for any activity.
Strengths of HUMANITY
- LOVE: Describes a reciprocated relationship with another person, such as romantic love, friendship, the love between parents and children, mentoring relationships, and the emotional bonds between teammates, coworkers, and so on.
- KINDNESS: Describes the tendency to be nice to other people, to perform good deeds, to be compassionate and concerned about others.
- SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE: Sometimes also called social inference or interpersonal judgement, social intelligence is the ability to process information and signals concerning motives, feelings, and other psychological states. Social intelligence includes emotional intelligence.
Strengths of JUSTICE
- CITIZENSHIP: Describes a sense of obligation to a common good that includes oneself but stretches to other members of the group such as the family members, fellow workers, local residents, etc.
- FAIRNESS: Refers to an individual’s treatment of other people in similar or identical ways. People who possess this character strength do not let their personal feelings or issues affect their decisions about others.
- LEADERSHIP: Refers not only to the position of someone who directs group activities, but also to the ability to set the course well by inspiring group members. Also known as “transformational leaders.”
- FORGIVENESS AND MERCY: The ability to start over and give people a second change instead of harbouring revenge and grudges.
Strengths of TEMPERANCE
- HUMILITY AND MODESTY: Describes a person’s tendency to let their accomplishments speak for themselves. Humble and modest people do not seek the spotlight and don’t take undue credit for their accomplishments. They can acknowledge mistakes and imperfections.
- PRUDENCE: The ability to carefully consider the consequences of actions taken and not taken. Often described as the ability to make “smart choices.”
- SELF-REGULATION: The ability to exert control over his or her own responses so as to pursue goals and live up to standards. In other words, it is the ability to regulate or control excesses of all types (impulses, emotions, etc.).
Strengths of TRANSCENDENCE
- APPRECIATION OF BEAUTY AND EXCELLENCE: The ability to be in awe and to notice excellence and appreciate it profoundly (whether it is beautiful art or music, skilled athletic performance, the majesty of nature, etc.).
- GRATITUDE: Describes the sense of thankfulness in response to a gift — whether tangible or intangible. It is the psychological response to the gift, the emotion of grace, the sense that we have benefited from the actions of another.
- HOPE: Describes a stance toward the future and the goodness that it might hold. Encompasses the expectation that desired events and outcomes will happen, acting in ways believed to make them more likely, and feeling confident that given appropriate efforts, we can reach our goals
- HUMOUR: One who is skilled at laughing and gentle teasing, at bringing smiles to the faces of others, at seeing the light side.
- SPIRITUALITY: Describes a person who has coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe and one’s place within it.
What are Character Strength Interventions?
Character strength interventions are exercises designed to help individuals identify and apply their character strengths in their lives and careers. The intervention might focus on any one of the following areas (or all of them):
- Identifying strengths
- Prioritizing strengths
- Improving or enhancing strengths
- Applying strengths
Here are 9 Strength Finding Tests and Assessments You Can Do Today, courtesy of PositivePsychology.com
If you’d like to learn more about what character strength interventions are all about and how they work, I would recommend the book Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners by Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec.
It’s an invaluable guide for life coaches, career coaches, therapists, counsellors, leaders, and anyone else who is interested in helping their clients boost their strengths as they strive for fulfillment in life and work.
If you’d like to enhance your skills in areas related to foundational life-skills, mental health well-being, and career management, enrol in CPC’s Work-Life Coaching program and obtain your CWS designation. The program offers the information, tools, and strategies you need to effectively support your clients as they move toward new levels of growth and fulfilment in living, learning, and working.
Catherine Carbonneau-Bergeron is a guidance counsellor with more than a decade of experience in career guidance. Passionate and curious, she is a devoted clinician, yet still immensely attracted to the research field and eager to share the very latest findings regarding education, career, workplace integration, and well-being.