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How You Can Let Your Strengths Shine

The new science of strengths points to how to improve your life.

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

Why should you care about character strengths? Why learn your strengths and express them?

The reasons are myriad. The impact is undeniable. Here are two main reasons:

1. Amplify and grow the positive

We can examine the importance of character strengths through a positive lens. Research has shown many positive benefits of using character strengths across physical, psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual domains. The benefits of character strengths have been demonstrated in many industries—especially business and education—but also in healthcare, coaching, and psychotherapy and counseling, to name a few. Specific benefits of character strengths have been linked with each of the main elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. They’ve been connected with many other benefits that help us amplify the positive in our life, such as self-acceptance, autonomy, goal progress, physical health, passion, and resilience. The newest research is showing that techniques for helping people boost their strengths can have important advantages over techniques that focus on correcting their deficits. But focusing on the positive is not the same as ignoring the negative (from The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, p. 18).

The research is clear: character strengths are your unique pathways to those positive goals people pursue in life. In other words, name something realistic and positive you want in your life. Fill in the blank here: __________. With whatever you say, one or more of your character strengths - perhaps used in a way different from what you’re used to - can help you get there. They’re not just the pathway but they’re also the expression of fulfillment in life (see short summaries of hundreds of studies showing positive benefits of character strengths).

2. Learning from and reframing the negative

Research shows that humans demonstrate a number of biases in our thinking. One of those biases is the tendency to remember and be affected more by negative events than by positive events. Problems and upsetting emotions stick with us like glue. Strengths can help bring greater balance to this equation. We need negative experiences to learn from, motivate us, warn us, and help us grow. But those experiences should not define us. Reflecting on our strengths can help us offset those negative experiences, can help us figure out our natural best way to avoid them in the future, and can remind us that we have unique resources available to us in negative situations… Research studies have also shown that character strengths help us manage problems more effectively. For example, using character strengths has been linked with less stress and improved coping in the workplace, less friction in classrooms, less depression, and fewer physical symptoms, to name just a few settings in which character strengths have been studied (from The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, pp. 18-19).

It’s not only comforting but exciting to know that you are carrying these “tools” within you wherever you go. They are there for the sorrow, the ecstasy, and the laundry.

Not sure where to start?

  1. Take a look at the “common language” of character strengths, found across the human race. Print up this 1-page description of the 24 strengths, post it in your home and workspace. Beginning to learn this language is a great place to start.
  2. Next, pick up the new trade book, The Power of Character Strengths. This will be your one-stop for making the most of those qualities that are best in you and in others.


Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1241–1259.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2015). The relationships of character strengths with coping, work-related stress, and job satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Kashdan, T. B., Blalock, D. V., Young, K. C., Machell, K. A., Monfort, S. S., McKnight, P. E., & Ferssizidis, P. (2017). Personality strengths in romantic relationships: Measuring perceptions of benefits and costs and their impact on personal and relational well-being. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication.

Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Bareli, Y. (2014). Strengths deployment as a mood-repair mechanism: Evidence from a diary study with a relationship exercise group. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(6), 547–558.

Niemiec, R. M. (2019). Six functions of character strengths for thriving at times of adversity and opportunity: A theoretical perspective. Applied Research in Quality of Life. DOI:

Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beermann, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149–156.

Wagner, L., Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2018). Character strengths and PERMA: Investigating the relationships of character strengths with a multidimensional framework of well-being. Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Weber, M., Wagner, L., & Ruch, W. (2016). Positive feelings at school: On the relationships between students’ character strengths, school-related affect, and school functioning. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17, 341–355.

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