When I am at play with my 2-year-old son, I realize how precious time is and so I attempt to be as present and mindful as possible in each activity. This mindfulness spurs my strength of curiosity as I await each word and reaction from him. Curiosity brings me to want to express other strengths such as humor/playfulness to make him laugh. Not wanting to overdo my goofy humor over and over, my mindfulness increases to tune in closely to him and the other possible character strengths that might benefit him, such as love as I provide him with positive feedback, teamwork as we work together on building blocks, or zest as we jump into an upbeat activity together.
Hence, round and round mindfulness and character strengths go – each influencing the other in a positive way. This is a virtuous circle.
Until recently, mindfulness and strengths have been treated as separate areas of practice and research. My argument is that these robust areas of well-being are inseparable.
What follows is my rationale for why it is beneficial to integrate these areas. Mindfulness can help your strengths practice and strengths of character can help your mindfulness practice.
Here’s a micro-look at what appears to be going on when we integrate these areas:
1) Provides mindfulness practitioners a common language to capture positive states and traits, many of which are organic outcomes of mindfulness.
2) Offers individuals who practice mindfulness a way to deal with the vexing obstacles and barriers that naturally emerge during mindfulness practices (e.g., mind wandering).
3) Elicits a greater awareness of the positive potential within us, and, taken a step further, offers a pathway to explore and develop character strengths.
4) Creates a positive synergy of mutual benefit that can foster a virtuous circle of positive impact. Mindful awareness boosts strengths use which, in turn, enlivens mindfulness. This synergy might actually be what underlies successful positive interventions.
5) Fosters individuals’ ability to respond appropriately and successfully in different situations; that is, the integration may promote psychological flexibility, help individuals find balance and practical wisdom in situations, and engender a growth mindset.
6) Facilitates increased self-awareness and potential for change activation by bringing one’s character strengths more clearly into view. Recent research shows that mindfulness serves as a path to see oneself as one really is.
7) Offers an anchor to the practice of character strengths as individuals often are uncertain what direction to take and how to work with strengths.
8) Motivates individuals to use their signature strengths more, which is particularly relevant since some research has found that only 1/3 of individuals have a meaningful awareness of their strengths. And for those that are aware, there is likely the issue of strengths blindness and taking one’s strengths for granted by downplaying them as “ordinary.” Mindfulness may be the ideal approach for remedying this “taking-strengths-for-granted” effect.
9) Provides a pathway for balanced character strength expression and a way to practice bringing them to fruition. Mindfulness can serve as a way for individuals to improve their management of strengths overuse and underuse.
10) Helps individuals get off the “hedonic treadmill,” which states that humans quickly adapt to the good or bad that is experienced in life. Mindfulness and character strengths help to counter this habitual nature of adaptation.
11) Offers a counterbalance to the pervasive human tendency to focus on and become impacted by what’s wrong or bad.
12) Gives a direct and indirect boost to many strengths at once. One strength cannot be expressed without using other strengths. For example, how can a person practice cultivating gratitude without employing the strengths of perspective (e.g., reflecting back on their day with a wider lens when counting one’s blessings) or bravery (e.g., using courage to deliver a gratitude letter to someone)? Each strength has elements of the others within it, and moreover, each strength requires the use of other strengths to deploy it. Thus, mindfulness focused on boosting one strength is automatically assisting other strengths to some degree.
These topics are explored in greater depth in my new book, Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenaeuer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.
Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T. B., & Minhas, G. (2011). A dynamic approach to psychological strength development and intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(2), 106–118.
Carlson, E. N. (2013). Overcoming the barriers to self-knowledge: Mindfulness as a path to seeing yourself as you really are. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 173–186.
Cloninger, C. R. (2007). Spirituality and the science of feeling good. Southern Medical Journal, 100(7), 740–743.
Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. N. (2006). Beyond the hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61(4), 305–314.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.
Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012a). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10902-012-9380-0
Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 865–878.
Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.
Louis, M. C. (2011). Strengths interventions in higher education: The effect of identification versus development approaches on implicit self-theory. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6 (3), 204–215.
Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Mindful living: Character strengths interventions as pathways for the five mindfulness trainings. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (1), 22–33.
Niemiec, R. M., Rashid, T., & Spinella, M. (2012). Strong mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness and character strengths. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34 (3), 240–253.
Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. E. (2006). Practical wisdom: Aristotle meets positive psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 377–395.
VIA Institute's practical resources: www.viapros.org
Free VIA Survey of strengths: www.viame.org
On mindfulness and character strengths (new website): www.viacharacter.org/mindfulness
On mindfulness and character strengths (new book): Niemiec's Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing