I have on my list to explore happiness. What is it? And how do we get it. I had an opportunity to hear Jairek Robbins speak in London. In his presentation he cites a book called Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman, who is a leading researching in the field of Positive Psychology. Watch Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Note video to get a quick 10 minute summary of the book.
I wanted to know my signature strengths, so I registered on Dr. Seligman’s website and took the Survey of Character Strengths.
My signature strengths are:
1. Curiosity and interest in the world.
2. Social intelligence.
3. Love of learning.
4. Capacity to love and be loved.
5. Forgiveness and mercy.
According Dr Seligman the road to happiness begins with structuring your life such that you play to your signature strengths. I wasn’t at all surprised by my top 3 signature strengths, #4 I could understand, but #5 I was shocked to find as one of my signature strengths. I guess I don’t see that I go around meting out a whole lot of forgiveness and mercy.
I had a good think about how to these strengths manifest themselves in my life now and how I could develop a simple mission statement that encompasses the essence of my top three strengths. I came up with this:
“I love finding out about stuff and sharing it with other people.”
That’s about a simple as it gets for me. I love it. Just identifying my signature strengths has already cleared some of the fog.
The Signature Strengths
Seligman identified 24 character strengths. These he distilled from the six key virtues he uncovered from researching the classic wisdom literature both Eastern and Western. The six virtues are:
Here’s how Seligman’s 24 character strengths fit within the core virtues:
1. Wisdom and Knowledge – cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
* Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it
* Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering
* Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly
* Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows
* Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people
2. Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
* Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it
* Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks
* Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions
* Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
3. Humanity – interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
* Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
* Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
* Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
4. Justice – civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
* Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
* Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
* Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the time maintain time good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
5. Temperance – strengths that protect against excess
* Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
* Humility/Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
* Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
* Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
6. Transcendence – strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
* Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience
* Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
* Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
* Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
* Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort