What Are Your Signature Strengths That Will Help You Flourish?

Time to centre myself.

My mind has been all over the place today.  I’ve had to get out of the office and down to the cafe. Change of pace, change scenery allow my mind to relax into a space conducive to creativity.

Black coffee helps too.

I’ve been exploring Dr Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness, which is about the science of Positive Psychology.  I’ve spent time with Dr Seligman’s book a few years ago.  Well, not so much the book, but his Signature Strength Questionnaire.  Before I get into that, I must say that in the past I have not been much of a happiness person.  I’m not an unhappy person, I just never listed happiness as a goal or an outcome for me, whereas when I’ve asked other people what they want out of life, so many answer with ‘I just want to be happy.’  I guess I just took my happiness for granted and just took it as given that I would be basically happy whatever the circumstance.  So instead, I always placed a premium on freedom as a goal or an outcome for my life.  And by freedom, I meant, free to do what I wanted, when I wanted, with whom I wanted.  Well over the past few months, I have revised my relationship with those two values.  I’ll deal with freedom first, as I want to devote the rest of this post to talking about happiness.

Freedom on it’s own is too much for me.  Total freedom brings chaos.  What I am really after when I say freedom is that I value the ‘freedom to explore,’ which if I relate that to one of the 24 signature strengths that Dr Seligman writes about, it would be curiosity and interest in the world.  According to my signature strengths results, ‘curiosity and interest in the world’ is my second highest strength and it means that I am curious about everything, always asking questions, find all subjects and topics fascinating and I like exploration and discovering.  To me, this is what freedom represents, the freedom to explore.

The signature strengths, of which there are 24, were distilled from the from the six key virtues that Dr Seligman and his colleagues identified as ubiquitous across nearly all cultures.  These 6 virtues are:

1. Wisdom and knowledge

2. Courage

3. Love

4. Justice

5. Temperance

6. Spirituality

If you look at the 6 core virtues as the big picture end-state, then the roadmap to reaching the end state is the 24 signature strengths.  Here’s what the map looks like:

1. Wisdom and Knowledge – cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.

* Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualise 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.

I sat down and completed the survey yesterday.  There are 240 questions.  I know that sounds like a lot, but it only takes about 30 minutes to complete.  This is my second time taking the survey, so I was interested to see if my strengths had changed since I took it 3 years ago.

My signature strengths are:

1. Humour and playfulness

2.Curiosity and interest in the world

3. Perspective (wisdom)

4. Capacity to love and be loved

5. Love of learning

When I took the survey 3 years ago, my strengths were identified as:

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

The three signature strengths that have remained constant for me are:

Curiosity and interest in the world

Love of learning

Capacity to love and be loved

These three definitely resonate with me, and looking at the two list I would say my current scoring is more reflective of who I am, so humour and perspective round out where I feel I am now in my life and those 5 signature strengths definitely support my vision and my mission.

How doe this help?

The short answer is, your signature strengths are the key to achieving authentic, lasting happiness as oppose the ephemeral happiness you get from watching TV, drugs and alcohol, loveless sex, chocolate and other such short-term happiness fixes.  I’d encourage you, as a minimum, to take the survey yourself, which you can do online here: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

Even better, read the book and then take the survey.

Your turn.  What are you’re signature strengths? I’d be curios to know, so after you complete the survey drop me a note below or email me.