People who better utilise their strengths have more fulfilling and happier lives.

What are character strengths?

“Strengths are ‘our pre-existing patterns of thought, feeling, and behaviour that are authentic, energizing, and which lead to our best performance.” (Biswas-Diner, 2010)

As a graduate of the social science of Positive Psychology, I am fascinated by and familiar with its studies and research, and have used its teachings and methodologies as a way towards my own and others' greater sense of wellbeing and happiness.

Martin Seligman, the ‘father of modern positive psychology' and author of many books, including Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, and his latest, Flourish, also co-authored with Christopher Peterson the ground-breaking handbook Character Strengths and Virtues – ‘the DSM of positive psychology’ – which unpacks the notion of character, and based on explicit criteria, classifies the resulting 24 universally and morally valued strengths.

Seligman and others' work has continued to expand and develop our understanding about what constitutes wellbeing and happiness, resulting in evidence-based research that supports the claim that people who use their strengths more have more fulfilling and happier lives. They are more resilient, have less stress, increased vitality and a stronger self-esteem.

‘When you are using your strengths, you feel energised. You get a buzz. You feel like it's the "real me" coming through... It's the activity that has you leaping out of bed in the morning... It's the sense of "This is what I was born to do." They are about our unique selves, who we are at our best.' (The Strengths Book, by Linley, Willars and Biswas-Diner, ibid)

Strengths and Virtues
In their book, Character Strengths and Virtues, Seligman and Peterson describe virtues as ‘core characteristics valued over time and lead one to achieve excellence’.

Within this context there are six virtues:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Courage
  3. Humanity
  4. Justice
  5. Temperance
  6. Transcendence

The twenty-four character strengths are the ‘psychological ingredients that define these virtues’ and are clustered within the six virtues.

Put simply, if you wanted to attain the virtuous path of wisdom (for example), you would practice/exhibit the character strengths of: open-mindedness, love of learning, curiosity, creativity and wisdom.

It is through using strengths that virtues are exhibited in the world, bringing about positive feelings and often deep gratification.

What about our weaknesses?

Acclaimed business leader and author, Peter Drucker, advocated that building on our strengths was a far more effective way to increase performance than remedying weaknesses: “One cannot do anything with what one cannot do. One cannot achieve anything with what one does not do. One can only build on strength. One can only achieve by doing.”

However, this is not about either/or, nor does it mean we ignore our weaknesses, our shortcomings. It simply means being more attentive to, and living within the domain of, our strengths; shifting the focus and asking, as a first default, ‘what’s right with me?’ instead of the knee-jerk, ‘what’s wrong with me?’.

And interestingly, research has shown that by cultivating our strengths there is a natural ‘trickle effect' to our weaknesses.

To find out more about your own unique ‘signature’ strengths, visit and complete your free on-line survey.


Character Strengths and Virtues Peterson, C., &Seligman, M.E.P., Oxford University Press. New York, (2004)
The Strengths Book, by Linley, A., Willars, J., & Biswas-Diener, R, CAPP Press, UK (2010)
Pursuing the Good Life, by Christopher Peterson, Oxford University Press, USA, 2013
Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching, by Robert Biswas-Diener. John Wiley, USA, 2010


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Thought of the Week

“Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.”
Harold Kushner