Thursday, August 18, 2011

Discover and Use Your Character Strengths for a Happier Life

Recently I attended a life transforming course on "Applied Positive Psychology" at Boston University, taught by Professor Amy Baltzell, author of "The Sweet Spot." My most affirming, and hopefully enduring, take away from this course was exposure to Martin Seligman's (the founder of Positive Psychology), model of signature character strengths, masterfully presented in his, and Christopher Petersen’s: Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.

Since then, I have used my own strengths, which I discovered by taking Seligman's VIA (Values in Action) Signature Character Strength Questionnaire (free at as a road map to a happier and more meaningful a life. Also, these signature strengths and interventions have led me away from the negativity and doomsday scenarios of our aversive age. An occurrence I never imagined possible, even a short time ago.

Integrating the results and interventions from Seligman’s questionnaire into my own life, and passing on this wisdom to my coaching clients and other people close to me, has led to a flourishing of creativity and a personal commitment to happiness and harmony. Moreover, using my strengths in tandem with a daily meditation practice, which is a cornerstone of Positive Psychology’s research and practice, has proven to be a particularly potent combination for me.

I also gained enjoyment and enlightenment related to these principles and practices from an excellent work called “Positive Psychology at the Movies” by Ryan Niemiec and Daniel Wedding. This well researched reference, and theoretical guide book offers hundred of suggestions of films that offer compelling visual representations of Seligman’s strengths. There are many subtle, yet sublime, messages emanating from these movies. They provide positive, engaging, and meaningful experiences, which is the essence and purpose of Positive Psychology.

Another epochal aspect of both Seligman’s signature strengths and Positive Psychology, in general, is that it combines the ancient wisdom of such philosophers as Aristotle (particularly his “Nicomachean Ethics”) and an emphasis on empirically based scientific research. Moreover, the scientifically validated signature strengths are based on virtues espoused by many ancient thinkers, such as wisdom, courage, justice, gratitude, and self regulation.

Now, some may think this is just too abstract and idealistic to make a concrete difference in one’s life. For these skeptics, I first recommend exploring the very accessible strengths based interventions presented in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.”

In our often cynical, superficial, and terror ridden time, living in concordance with Positive Psychology’s practices and Seligman’s strengths model can lead to a reaffirmation of all that is good, noble and inspirational in the human condition. Perhaps this conciliatory mindset, engendered by Positive Psychology, will lead eventually to a cultural transformation; moving many from greed and gloom to happiness and hope. Finally, for those of you who have the perseverance to progress on the path to positivity, the results will be well worth your effort.