Character Strengths and Virtues is a groundbreaking handbook that was created built on reports from a prestigious group of researchers who have attempted to create a systematic classification and measurements of widely valued positive traits. The aim was to present a measure of humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical and scientific way.
This handbook intends to provide a theoretical framework that will help assist positive psychology practitioners in developing practical applications for the field. There are six classes of virtue that are made up of 24 character strengths:
- Wisdom and Knowledge
Researchers approached the measurement of “good character” based on different kinds of strengths: authenticity, persisitence, kindness, gratitude, hope, humor, and so on.
This article contains:
What Makes Us Strong and Virtuous?
There has always been an interest in studying and identifying human strengths; obviously it was a huge interest for psychologists because it was something they could work with their clients on developing. Each culture values human virtues, with the difference being is that how they choose to express or act on that virtue differs between societal values and norms.
Martin Seligman and his colleagues studied all major religions and philosophical traditions and found that the same six virtues (i.e. courage, humanity, justice, etc.) were shared in practically all cultures across three millennia (Seligman, 2002).
Since these virtues are considered a bit too abstract to be studied scientifically, positive psychology practitioners focused their attention on the strengths of character by which was achieved by its virtues. They followed that by creating tools for their measurement.
The main assessment instruments they used to measure those strengths that was acquired by virtues were through:
- Structured interviews
- Informant Reports
- Behavioral Experiments
The main criteria for characters strengths that they came up with are:
- It should be a trait that is stable across time and situations
- It’s valued in its own right, even in the absence of other benefits
- It’s recognized and valued in almost every culture, is considered non-controversial, and is irrelevant from politics.
- Cultures provide role models that possess those traits so other people can recognize its worth.
- Parents aim to instill these traits or values in their children.
Character strengths are different from talent and natural abilities because talents are innate, less voluntary, and is valued for what you can create from your talent. Strengths, on the other hand, are developed, can be freely chosen, and valued in their own right.
The CSV Handbook’s List
Virtue of Wisdom and Knowledge
*Strengths that accompany this virtue involve acquiring and using knowledge
- Creativity (e.g. Albert Einstein’s creativity led him to acquire knowledge and wisdom about the universe)
- Love of Learning
- Perspective and Wisdom (Fun fact: many studies have found that adults’ self-ratings of perspective and wisdom do not depend on age, which contrasts the popular idea that our wisdom increases with age).
To simplify: The more curious and creative you allow yourself to become, the more you gain perspective and wisdom, and you will in turn love what you are learning because your developing a virtue of wisdom and knowledge.
Virtue of Courage
*Strengths that accompany this virtue involve accomplishing goals in the face of things that oppose it
To simplify: The braver and more persistent we become, the more our integrity will increase because we will reach a state of feeling vital; this will result in being more courageous in character.
Virtue of Humanity
Strengths that accompany this virtue include caring and befriending others.
- Social intelligence
To simplify: There is a reason why Oprah Winfrey is seen as a symbol of virtue for humanitarians: on every show she approaches her guests with respect, appreciation, and interest (social intelligence), she practices kindness through her charity work, and she makes sure she shows her love to her friends and family, something that has been reported on numerous accounts.
Virtue of Justice
Strengths that accompany this virtue include those that build a healthy and stable community.
- Being an active citizen, socially responsible, loyal, and a team member.
To simplify: Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. He led India to independence and helped created movements for civil rights and freedom by being an active citizen in nonviolent disobedience. His work has been applied worldwide for its universality.
Virtue of Temperance
Strengths that are included in this virtue are those that protect against excess.
- Forgiveness and mercy
- Humility and modesty
- Self-Regulation and Self-control
To Simplify: Being forgiving, merciful, humble, prudent, and under control of your behaviors and instincts will prevent you from being arrogant, selfish, or any other trait that is excessive.
Virtue of Transcendence
Strengths that accompany this virtue includes those that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence
- Humor and playfulness
- Spirituality, or a sense of purpose
To Simplify: The Dalai Lama is transcendent being, as he never loses hope in humanity’s potential, always appreciates nature in its perfection, is frequently seen smiling, and is living out what he believes to be his intended purpose.
Positive Psychology & Character Strengths and Virtues
Positive psychology practitioners depend on using practical applications will help individuals and organizations identify their strengths and use them to increase and maintain their levels of wellbeing. Each of these traits provides many alternatives to acquire a virtue that will lead them to that.
They also emphasize that these character strengths exist on a continuum for positive traits are regarded as individual differences that exist in degrees rather than all-or-nothing categories.
In fact, the handbook has an internal subtitle entitled “A Manual of the Sanities” because it is intended to do for psychological wellbeing what the DSM does for psychological disorders: to add systematic knowledge and ways to master new skills and topics.
Research shows that these human strengths can act as buffers against mental illness. For instance, being optimistic will prevent the chances of one becoming depressed and it also has shown that the absence of a strength may be an indication of psychopathology. Positive psychology therapists, counselors, coaches, and other psychological professions use these new methods and techniques to help build people’s strength and broaden their lives.
Examples of applying these strengths were also highlighted in Michelle McQuaid’s eBook “Five Simple Steps to Flourishing”.
However, it should be noted that many researchers are advocating grouping these 24 traits into just four classes of strength (Intellectual, Social. Temperance, and Transcendence) or even three classes (excluding transcendence), as evidence has shown that these classes do an adequate job of capturing all 24 original traits.
Others caution also that sometimes people use these traits to excess and it can sometimes become a liability to the person. For example, people use a lot of humor as a defense mechanism in order avoids dealing with a tragedy or coma. It is still an excellent manual to use for psychologists, as we are always searching for ways to understand universal behaviors and this manual brings us a step closer in learning how to make people become their very best.
Videos on Character Strengths
To finish off, here are some helpful videos for you to enjoy if you want to learn more about character strengths and virtues:
Jolly, M., & Academia. (2006). Positive Psychology: The Science of Human Strengths. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/6442081/Positive_Psychology_The_Science_of_Human_Strengths
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2008). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Princeton, NJ: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
TARTAKOVSKY, M. (2011). Measuring Your Character Strengths | World of Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/01/05/measuring-your-character-strengths/