Human beings have a variety of strengths,coming in different degrees and types.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve become familiar with various examples of character strengths, as well as the complexity involved in understanding character. These positive characteristics of personality are different from other types of strength, such as talents (what you do well), interests (what you enjoy doing), and resources (your external supports). Character strengths are viewed as “who you are,” in other words, they make up part of your core identity. Here’s a breakdown of several of the types of strengths that you possess:
Types of Strengths
- Character strengths are capacities for thinking, feeling, willing, and behaving. They reflect what is best in you and can be viewed as part of your positive identity. The 24 strengths (e.g., fairness, hope, kindness, leadership) in the widespread VIA Classification are the best examples of this type of strength.
- Talents are strengths that are innate abilities, which typically have a strong biological loading, and may or may not be well-developed (e.g., intelligence, musical ability, athletic ability).
- Skills are strengths that are specific proficiencies developed through training (e.g., learning a particular trade; computing skills; researching skills).
- Interests are strengths that are areas or topics you are passionate about and driven to pursue, such as playing sports, engaging in particular hobbies, and working with arts or crafts.
- Values are enduring beliefs, principles, or ideals that are of prime importance to you. Values reside in your thoughts and feelings, not behavior. E.g., your value for family, your value for hard work.
- Learning styles are ideas or hypotheses about how people approach new material, e.g., you might be reflective in how you learn a particular subject, or you might be more interpersonal in your style because you want to receive new learnings through discussion rather than reading.
- Resources are the one type of strength that is external. These are your external supports, such as social and spiritual connections, living in a safe neighborhood, and being part of a good family.
One Category Serves as the Driving Force
Character strengths cut across the strength categories. In many cases, character strengths underpin the other categories and draw the other strengths forward. They are often the driving force. For example, you might use hope to develop a new skill for work, curiosity to explore an area of interest, and gratitude and kindness to tap into your external resources.
Inevitably, character strengths help us make the most of these other strengths categories. If you point to a talented person, for example a successful concert pianist or a professional basketball player, then you are pointing to someone who uses their character strengths of perseverance and self-regulation in order to maximize their strength of talent.
The category of interests is no doubt driven by our character strengths of love of learning and curiosity, among other strengths. Also, we might choose hobbies and other interest areas in order to express particular character strengths. I play one-on-one sports because I can express my perseverance and zest, team sports because I can bring forth teamwork and social intelligence, and online chess so I can exercise my judgment/critical thinking and perspective strengths together. And no doubt my passion for collecting Pez dispensers allows me to tap into my playfulness/humor strength.
Takeaway point: As we age over the decades, our talents can be squandered. Our skills will likely diminish. Our resources change or can be lost. But, when focused on, our character strengths crystallize and evolve and can integrate with these other positive qualities to contribute to the greater good.
Note: some of this content is taken directly from my book, Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing that was published this year.
VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)
VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test)
VIA resources for practitioners