How to Identify Your Character Strengths

How many times a day do we tell ourselves with the little voice in our head that we’re falling short of the ideal we have for ourselves?  “I forgot to add the salt, so I ruined the recipe.” “I’m not good enough.” “I was mistaken.” “I’m not smart enough.” “I didn’t get picked for the finals.” “Nobody likes me.” And so on.

Instead, why don’t we focus on our strengths?  Chris Peterson underwent an extensive research project to discover 24 positive character strengths that each person has to varying degrees.  They are:

Love of Learning
Social intelligence
Appreciation of Beauty

You may or may not be familiar with the DSM: the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders.  It is the standard encyclopedia of mental illnesses that is widely accepted among doctors and psychologists in the mental health field.  It lists categories of illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression.

The people who birthed positive psychology, the study of mental wellness and flourishing, decided they needed a manual too.  They decided to focus on character strengths as one way to measure and record mental wellness.  The VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths was developed to fill this need.

I’d highly recommend you take the free VIA Survey of Character Strengths at the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness web site:

The multiple-choice test will take less than 30 minutes and will rank your own strengths based on your answers.  You’ll learn what your top six strengths are.

You can read more about what they mean in your test results as well as on this page:

Once you know your strengths, you’ll be able to use them as a positivity filter in your life.  For example, many people have curiosity as their top strength.  If curiosity ranks high for you, spend a few days thinking about this trait, and notice how it manifests in your actions.  You’ll soon find yourself explaining your behavior by saying “I was just curious.”

When you can seek out ways to bring curiosity, or whatever the top strength is for you, into your life more, such as through cooking a new dish, reading a new genre, or exploring a part of town you didn’t know before, you will improve your emotions.

You may also be able to change your stress level by acknowledging and re-channeling your strengths.  “I’m so curious that it looks like I accidentally committed to too many things this month. I think I’ll call one of them back and cancel so I can relax more and use my curiosity in a different way that doesn’t increase my stress.”

Take the strengths test, and study your results.  List your top six strengths below:







Next, think about how your strengths manifest in your actions.  Think also if they tend to stress you out as you fulfill them.

Ask yourself how you can use this information to enjoy your life more based on your strengths, and put that plan into action.

[This is an excerpt from my book “30 Days to a Stress-Free Life.”  Find out more here:]