Strengths are a key concept in positive psychology. Seligman and Peterson produced a handbook providing a systematic classification and measurement of strengths, the VIA Character Strengths and Virtues. In this fundamental text, Seligman and Peterson categorize 24 strengths into 6 classes of virtues. Reham Al Taher’s excellent article summarizes the key points of this handbook (Taher, 2015).
This is one of a series of articles on how to use and improve strengths which looks at the strengths classified within the value of “transcendence”: those strengths which connect people to the wider world, providing them with meaning and purpose. These strengths include:
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence
- Humour and playfulness
- Spirituality, or a sense of purpose
This article will introduce ways to build and improve upon your character strengths of transcendence. Let’s begin.
1) Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
Appreciating beauty and excellence helps us find the positives in life- It lifts us up. To increase your appreciation of beauty and excellence, mindfulness is a great activity.
Concentrate on something beautiful—an ornament, a picture or a landscape. Notice the variations in colour, think of the work that went into creating it, capture it in your mind’s eye.
This is just one of many activities available online from the Greater Good Centre, the VIA blog and Positive Living that will help grow your appreciation of beauty and excellence. The key is to pause and notice- so set a reminder to be mindful of the beauty that surrounds you. The more you notice, the more you will see.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” W. B. Yeats
Gratitude is one of the best known strengths and is defined as thankfulness for the good things in one’s life which flows from an appreciation of beauty and excellence. This gratitude can be directed towards yourself, another person,a god or simply just expressed.
Being present and appreciative is the first step: expressing one’s gratitude in a concrete way is the best way to grow the strength of gratitude.
The most commonly used gratitude exercise is writing down three things that happened during the day for which one is grateful, this is usually done at the end of the day just before sleeping. Another one we have devised is for Possibility Place which we called the “Key Rosary”.
Most of us have a house key, a car key, a locker key and perhaps some work keys. They might be on a key chain given to us by a loved one, or one that was bought as a souvenir. The Key Rosary exercise is simple, basically you become thankful for having a house, a car etc. every time you use your keys.
For those who don’t have keys, they can have a “magic pebble” to keep in a pocket and every time it is seen or touched, the person must think of something for which they were thankful.
Another way to develop gratitude is when we cherish the good fortune of others, this is a sure footed method of increasing the feeling of love in our lives (Fredrikson, 2014). Another source of gratitude uplifting exercise ideas is Mashable which offers 7 other ways to practice gratitude.
“Feeling gratitude, and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward
Hope is the expectation of good things to come. In research done by Wiseman, it was found that one of the four principles of luck was to expect good fortune and because lucky people expected good fortune, they tried for longer, entered more competitions, dared more and thus succeeded more often (Wiseman, 2003).
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” John Lennon
One way to build your hope is to start the day by thinking of three things that you are looking forward to and how you can make them work out.
Allison Carmen, author of the “Power of Maybe” believes we can build hope in times of fear of failure or distress:
Remember a time when things worked out when you didn’t expect them to? Think of the best possible results that could happen. Now imagine the interview you are dreading, picture it going well. See yourself coming out smiling, knowing that you have the job. (Carmen, 2015)
Watch this Video to Learn More about the Power of Maybe
4) Humour and Playfulness
This strength is an attitude to life rather than being able to crack a joke. Delight and laughter refresh us and make life’s burdens easier. When people execute this strength they see the funny side of things and enjoy play. Humour is a powerful antidote to many of our struggles and aren’t we lucky that it is contagious too.
A simple exercise that brings out the happiness child, is to give them a small bottle of bubbles! Need a laugh? Check out the chuckling tot in this video. Playing peek-a-boo with a small child always lifts my heart without fail.
Even philosopher and priest, St Thomas Aquinas expressed the need to play:
“It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” Thomas Aquinas
5) Spirituality or A Sense of Purpose
Spirituality means knowing one’s place within the larger scheme of things. It may include, but is not limited to religious belief or practice. It is a sense of something beyond oneself or a higher purpose.
Victor Frankl (1962) writes of three sources of meaning:
- Doing something significant,
- Caring for another and
- Courage in difficult times
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzche
Many of us don’t stop to think why we do what we do, and again become mindful, taking the time to ponder helps grow our strengths. Critical conditions, devastating accidents and terminal illness often jolt us into finding our purpose, however here is a less drastic exercise:
Imagine you are standing at the back of a church in a funeral service—yours. People are standing up to talk about your life. What would you want them to say? Who are the most important people speaking? What do you want to be remembered for? What was the thread that ran through your life? This is very similar to the exercise, My Gravestone.
The Common Thread
Linking all strengths allied to transcendence is the practice of mindfulness. One needs to take the time to appreciate the beauty of the sunset, to become aware of all of one’s blessings, to lift up one’s eyes to see the long game, to stop and play with a child and to reflect on the purpose of one’s life.
Perhaps the best exercise of all is to switch off your mobile, go outside, take a walk with a loved one or child, or talk about the things that give life meaning.
About the Author
This article was written by Nancy Radford of Roundtuit Coaching. For more information on her, her work or this article please contact her directly via her website.
Carmen, A. (2012). The Book of Maybe. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Frankl, V. (1962). Man's Search for Meaning. London: Rider.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Fredrikson, B. (2014). Love 2.0. New York: Penguin Random House.
Greater Good Science Center. (n.d.). How to Build... Retrieved from Greater Good in Action: http://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=awe
Reivich, K., & Shatte, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Taher, R. A. (2015, Febuary 19). What is the Classification. Retrieved from Positive Psychology Program: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/classification-character-strengths-virtues/
Ways to Use VIA Character Strengths. (2014, June 18). Retrieved from VIA Character: http://www.viacharacter.org/resources/ways-to-use-via-character-strengths/
Wiseman, R. (2003). The Luck Factor. London: Century.