“The muscular person likes to use his muscles, indeed, has to use them in order to self-actualize, and to achieve the subjective feeling of harmonious, uninhibited, satisfying functioning which is so important an aspect of psychological health. People with intelligence must use their intelligence, people with eyes must use their eyes, people with the capacity to love have the impulse to love and the need to love in order to feel healthy. Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are used sufficiently.” ~ Abraham Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being
Capacities clamor to be used.
The VIA (Values In Action) Character Strengths originated from a group headed by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement and the late Dr. Chris Peterson, a distinguished researcher and scientist. The task they set for themselves was to define and classify human strengths, similar to the way mental disorders are classified in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Their purpose was to develop a method to identify the traits that enable people to flourish just as the DSM allows professionals to identify the traits of mental disorders in order to treat them successfully. [Seligman]
Origins of the VIA Strengths
Seligman, Peterson and their team surveyed all the wisdom literature: Aristotle and Plato, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, the Old Testament and the Talmud, the Quran, Confucius, Buddha, the Tao, Benjamin Franklin — about 200 “virtue catalogs” altogether. [Seligman] They discovered that “almost every single one of these traditions flung across three thousand years and the entire face of the earth endorsed six virtues.” [Seligman] These 6 virtues are wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality. The 6 virtues are further classified into 24 strengths of character, which all of us have in varying degrees. The VIA Character Strengths Test allows you to see how these 24 strengths are displayed in your unique personality.
Each of us has all 24 character strengths to some degree, but we generally tend to use some of them more often. The top 5 or 6 that are most natural for you to use are called your Signature Strengths. When you use your strengths, you are empowered, positive, energized and connected. You are moving up Maslow’s heirarchy of needs toward becoming a self-actualized person, using your capacities that are “clamoring to be used”.
Use strengths for self-actualization
Studies show that those who use their signature strengths in pursuit of their goals (1) made more progress on their goals, (2) met basic psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness, and competence), and (3) were higher in overall well-being — higher life satisfaction, higher positive emotions, and lower negative emotions. [“Character Strengths and Goal Setting”]
To “achieve the subjective feeling of harmonious, uninhibited, satisfying functioning which is so important an aspect of psychological health”, take these steps and use your capacities that are clamoring to be used.
Discovering and using your Signature Strengths
- Take the VIA Strengths Survey here to find your own personal ranking of the 24 character strengths, (The survey is free but you have to register. It takes 20 – 30 minutes to complete.)
- Determine your signature strengths, the ones you use most naturally and are strongest in you. These are typically the top 5 – 8 on your list of strengths.
- Consider a goal you are working towards. How are you already using your strengths to pursue your goal? What are some new ways you could apply your signature strengths to achieve your goal? Try to identify 1 way you are currently using each of your signature strengths and 1 new way you can use them.
- Explore ways you can draw on your strengths in your work, your family life, your relationships, your hobbies, and all other aspects of your life.
Find ways to use your strengths
In addition to these suggestions, you can find many ways to incorporate your strengths by searching the web. Here are a couple of examples.
Increasingly, research shows that knowing and using your strengths daily contributes to your well-being in a number of ways. Your resilience grows, making you better able to rebound from setbacks. You have higher levels of positive energy and lower levels of stress. You get a boost to your self-esteem and self-confidence. [Grenville-Cleave]
As Maslow pointed out, muscular people must use their muscles, intelligent people must use their intelligence, people with the capacity to love must love in order to be fulfilled and healthy. You and I must use our Signature Strengths for the same reasons. Self-actualization is a journey, not a destination. Discovering and using your Signature Strengths is an important step along the path. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life!
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Discovering and using your Signature Strengths is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
“Character Strengths and Goal Setting,” 21 Jan. 2016 <http://www.viacharacter.org/resources/79/>
Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012
Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press, 2002