A Case for Character Strengths

The Father of Positive Psychology, Professor Martin Seligman hypothesized that it wasn’t enough to ensure individual wellbeing if we only built wellbeing when times are difficult.  We all need extra help in times that demand resilience, however, to really FLOURISH, we need to build our wellbeing at all times to equip us with the coping and thriving mechanisms required for our modern lives.

A key tool we can all use – in schools, in the home and in workplaces are the 24 VIA Character Strengths.

The first step is to become familiar with these strengths.  There are 24 and we have to develop an understanding of each.  St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School has a curriculum for this throughout the student’s six-year pastoral care journey.  We begin each year with the VIA Character Strengths Survey.  This identifies our signature strengths – those that we utilise naturally and bring easily to the forefront.  It’s a great thing to do at home as well – to familiarise yourself with the strengths and with this concept for your children.  It is equally as important for parents and teachers to be able to use this vocabulary and to discuss the concept of character in an ongoing way, rather than simply when a person fails to demonstrate it.  Too often – and especially with boys – our conversations about character occur when they have behaved badly.

In contrast conversations about character strengths focus on what we DO have. We have each of these – and each of them reflects a positive personal quality.  We simply draw on some more readily than others. We can choose to use and develop any of the 24 character strengths.  Working with these strengths empowers students to see themselves clearly and choose to develop themselves in ways that matter to them.

Our use of these character strengths can change, so it is really interesting to revisit the survey and discuss subtle shifts, or the stability of these strengths over the years.  Sometimes a  crisis like COVID19 brings different strengths to the forefront as we need to find new ways of resolving problems.

If you are not familiar with character strengths, you may be missing a valuable personal, parenting or teaching tool.  Character Strengths are a positive, proactive way we can all build self-esteem,  emotional literacy and a sense of self. These are all crucial aspects of wellbeing. To be known by our strengths and competencies as opposed to our weaknesses and deficiencies is a powerful paradigm.

Photo by Gratisography