What Matters Most?

Using your strengths to impact well-being

Divergent: Use the Movie to Create the Best Version of You

Compare your “divergent” category with your VIA character strengths.

“If I were going to create a utopia, I would make a world in which people are focused on their personal, moral obligations, and strive to be the best possible version of themselves. They would be allowed to choose whatever path they wanted in life.”

-Veronica Roth, author of Divergent

This opening quote captures the main idea of the new science of character strengths — to help people identify their best qualities (signature strengths) and express these strengths in their lives. Even the word “divergent,” which refers to your capacity to show many virtues strongly (rather than just 1 or 2), is perfectly aligned with one of the main messages of character strengths — that character is plural.

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Divergent — the best fictional portrayal of character strengths written — has become a popular movie and franchise. Divergent is a marvelous opportunity for strengths enthusiasts to look closely at issues relating to strength and virtue — strengths balance, strengths overuse, strengths misuse, strengths constellations, strengths-spotting, and mindfulness of strengths are all at play.

I would be very surprised if Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, did not know about the scientific  VIA Classification of character strengths and virtues prior to or during her writing. The 5 "factions" in the books (movie) are nearly identical to the virtues of the VIA Classification. This makes for an exciting portrayal of strengths-in-action. Readers and viewers can sit back and observe the positive and negative effects of strengths.

The following chart lists the 5 factions of the dystopian society that is divided in Divergent along with the correspondence with current science in positive psychology. I drew these conclusions from reading the book series, examining the Faction Manifestos, studying the VIA Classification of strengths and virtues, and discussion with others.

 

Make it Personal – Learn About Yourself

Bring the Divergent traits to your own life. The filmmakers and author have created a test to measure what Divergent trait you are highest in. You can take what they call The Aptitude Test. This non-validated but fun test is interesting for enthusiasts of the books and film. It helps the reader and viewer become more involved in the experience and begin to apply the movie and book right to themselves. The test, of course, should not be seen as an assessment of one’s character. Since there are only 5 categories, it offers only a sliver of what is possible in terms of self-knowledge. Humans are far more complex than that.

In addition, I would recommend you get more information by taking the only scientifically validated, character strengths test out there — the VIA Survey. This gives you a deeper sense of who you are.

Then, try comparing your “divergent” results side-by-side with your character strengths results. This will give you a more clear picture of your best qualities.

Here is how I faired with the Aptitude Test results and the VIA Survey results:

  • The Divergent Aptitude Test: concludes I am divergent, highest in erudite and candor.
  • The VIA Survey (which I take once per year): concludes my highest 7 strengths are love, hope, curiosity, honesty, perspective, fairness, and appreciation of beauty/excellence.

If you examine the chart above, you can see that my erudite virtue is reflected in my VIA strengths of curiosity and perspective while my candor virtue is reflected by my VIA strengths of honesty and fairness. This is consistent with important traits in me, however, my highest qualities — the very best version of who I am — are love and hope. These are not captured in the Divergent survey.

Conclusion: Examining both tests together gives me a more clear picture of myself.

References:

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Roth, V. (2011). Divergent. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., is the education director at the VIA Institute on Character.

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