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All species have basic instincts for survival, but what allows humans to function at higher levels than any other living thing? A unique virtue that humans possess is wisdom. Many fields have explored wisdom, including philosophy, education, religion, and psychology.
In positive psychology, VIA defines wisdom as “the cognitive strength that entails the acquisition and use of knowledge” (VIA Institution on Character, 2015). Wisdom entails five strengths of cognitive functions: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective.
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Creativity: Originality, Ingenuity
“[If] two young people [were to] make a creative contribution, one who was intellectually brilliant but not very motivated and another who was less brilliant but more motivated, the better bet would be on the latter person.” (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003)
Many studies have been conducted on creativity and in what ways it improves the well-being of our lives (Corely, 2010).
When thinking about creativity, some people think of world-famous artists, designers, and thinkers, but don’t believe that they themselves are capable of creativity. Creativity is not limited, however, to the field of artistic achievement.
Creativity can be seen as the ability to adapt. According to a study by Flood and Phillips (2007), adaptation is “the process and outcome whereby individuals use conscious awareness and choice to create human and environmental integration.”
Therefore, people who are easily adaptable to new environments share the strength of creativity as well. Historically, humans have been excellent at adapting to new environments, supporting the idea that this is one fundamental strength of our species.
Creative activities, which require the ability to be open to new ideas, can have both psychological and physiological benefits (Forgeard & Elstein, 2014). A study by Flood and Phillips (2007) demonstrates these benefits as enhancing self-esteem and developing problem-solving and coping skills, while also improving the connection of neurons, stimulating endorphins, and boosting the immune system.
Curiosity: Interest, Novelty-seeking, Openness to New Experiences
Perhaps this is the strength that we all have at a young age. Children seemingly never get bored of repeatedly asking the question “why?” While the adults around them often tire of answering, they may not realize that this tendency to explore is a strength that ought to be encouraged.
According to the VIA, curiosity is defined as: “taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering” (VIA Institution on Character, 2015).
One study shows that curiosity is one of the components for life-success in that it allows us to view challenge and novelty as an opportunity for growth. For example, searching for the meaning of things can promote a sense of direction and purpose in life.
Furthermore, in social contexts, people with high degrees of curiosity are “more responsive, infuse more novel twists of excitement [into] interactions, and are more likely to seek, capitalize, and build on interaction[s]” (Kashdan, Rose & Fincham, 2004).
Judgment: Critical Thinking
Who else loves to judge? Even though we hate doing it, many times we have to remind ourselves not to judge people. When we judge people, the way we judge is typically very critical. In general, judgment tends to be a negative interpretation, which is why we need to understand how can we use judgment as a positive strength.
Judgment is defined as “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” (VIA Institution on Character, 2015).
We all have our beliefs, but judgment as a strength requires the ability to think through a situation and find all the evidence without bias, while also weighing different perspectives before coming to a conclusion.
Love of Learning
“When people have [the strength of] love of learning, they are cognitively engaged.” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
VIA defines love of learning as “mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally.” Connected to the strength of curiousity, love of learning “goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows” (VIA Institution on Character, 2015).
Love of learning doesn’t have to be limited to a school or classroom. Love of learning can be enhanced by going out and engaging in new skills and experiences. It is the key to improving ourselves and it helps us tackle challenges and setbacks.
People with a strong love of learning can maintain a sense of efficacy and motivation while learning over a long period of time than those without (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
Peterson and Seligman (2004) view the strength of wisdom as being different from intelligence and as a higher form of knowledge. It is used for the sake of oneself and others’ well-being. People with this strength see things through a wider lens.
In addition, perspective is all about experiences. Perspective or wisdom can be developed through life tasks and adjustments as well as coming to terms with life choices, life changes, and stressful life experiences. As Aristotle once said:
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Wisdom provides a great advantage to human beings, allowing our species to get as far as it has today.
Corley, C. (2010). Creative expression and resilience among Holocaust survivors. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 20(4), 542-552. doi:10.1080/10911350903275325
Flood, M., and Phillips, K. D. (2007). Creativity in older adults: A plethora of possibilities. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28(4), 389–411.
Forgeard, M. J., & Elstein, J. G. (2014). Advancing the clinical science of creativity. Frontiers in psychology, 5.
Kashdan, T. B., Rose, P., & Fincham, F. D. (2004). Curiosity and exploration: Facilitating positive subjective experiences and personal growth opportunities. Journal of personality assessment, 82(3), 291-305.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). The motivational sources of creativity as viewed from the paradigm of positive psychology.
In L. G. Aspinwall, U. M. Staudinger, L. G. (2003), A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology (pp. 257-269). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10566-018
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.
VIA Institution on Character. (2015). The VIA Classification of Character Strengths & Virtues. Retrieved from http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/VIA-Classification.