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New Ways to Happiness with Strengths

Your guide to using positive psychology's most popular exercise.

Maridav/VIA Institute
Source: Maridav/VIA Institute

Need a happiness boost? Looking for more meaning in life? Trying to reach a goal? A new pathway to reach these benefits is to identify your signature strengths (your best personality characteristics) and use them in a new way each day. Research on strengths has repeatedly found this intervention gives a boost to happiness and a decrease to depression, some studies finding effects lasting up to six months!

Because of the success of this intervention across cultures (e.g., Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, etc.) and populations (e.g., youth, elderly, students, people with depression, people with head injuries, etc.), it has become one of the most studied and successful positive psychology interventions.

Below are examples of how this intervention can be applied with each of the 24 universal, character strengths of the VIA Classification.

After you take the VIA Survey, consider the following ideas with each of your highest, signature strengths. Note: as an additional resource for you, I have included a hyperlink for each character strength below that will take you immediately to additional exercises for each strength, courtesy of the VIA Institute on Character:


  1. Think of one of your problems and write out 3 possible solutions. 
  2. Turn an inanimate object (e.g., like paperclips, toothpicks) into something symbolically meaningful to you. Display it on your desk.


  1. Try a new food for the first time, preferably from a culture different than your own.
  2. Take a different route home and explore a new area or neighborhood.

Judgment (critical thinking):

  1. Watch a political program from the opposite point of view of your own, and keep an open mind.
  2. Ask one or two clarifying questions of someone who has a different approach to life or different beliefs than you (e.g., a vegetarian).

Love of learning:

  1. Read some of the original works of Gandhi online.
  2. Consider your favorite subject matter. Do an Internet search and surprise yourself by discovering something new about the topic.


  1. For one of your interactions today: First, listen closely. Second, share your ideas and thoughts.
  2. Consider the wisest quotation you have come across. Think of one way you can live more true to that quote.


  1. Take on a new adventure or hobby that fits with one of your areas of interest.
  2. Consider one of your personal fears. Take one small, healthy action toward facing it right now.


  1. Complete a small project that you have been putting off.
  2. Set a new goal today, list 2 potential obstacles that may come up, and ways that you will overcome them.


  1. Write a poem that expresses an inner truth.
  2. Contact a family member or friend whom you have told a “partial” truth and give them the complete details.


  1. Exert your energy in a unique way – jump on a bed, run in place, practice yoga or body stretching, or chase around a child or pet.
  2. Express your energy through an outfit, pair of shoes, and/or accessories that are striking and colorful.


  1. Surprise somebody with a small gift that shows you care (e.g., flowers, a cup of coffee).
  2. Tell someone about a strength you saw them use and how much you value it. Words of affirmation are a powerful, verbal force for the expression of love.


  1. Put coins in someone’s parking meter that has run out of money.
  2. Stop by a hospital or nursing home and offer to visit with someone who is lonely.

Social intelligence:

  1. Start up a conversation with someone whom you normally would not say much more to than typical pleasantries. This person might be a clerk at the checkout counter, a telemarketer, or a new employee.
  2. Express a feeling of frustration, disappointment, or nervousness in a healthy, direct way that someone can easily understand.


  1. Spot and express appreciation for the strengths expressed by your team members.
  2. Savor a positive team interaction from the past by replaying it in your mind; share it at a team meeting.


  1. Look for beings (e.g., people, animals) that are cast aside or typically held in disgust and go out of your way to treat them right.
  2. Include someone in a conversation who is typically excluded from groups or is a newcomer.


  1. Discuss with someone who reports to you about how they can align their top character strength more in their work.
  2. Gather and lead a group to help support a cause you believe in.


  1. Let go of a minor irritant or a grudge.
  2. Give yourself permission to make a mistake.


  1. Consider an interaction that typically involves you doing more talking/sharing and flip it to where the other person talks/shares more.
  2. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on your struggles and growth areas.


  1. Before you make a decision that is typically very easy, take one full minute to think about it before you take action.
  2. Write down your plans for each hour of the remainder of the day, no matter how trivial.


  1. The next time you feel irritated or nervous today, pause and breathe with the experience for a count of 10 breathes.
  2. Monitor all the food and drinks you put in your body. Write it down on a tracking sheet.

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence:

  1. Go outside and stand still in a beautiful environment for 20 minutes.
  2. Listen to a song or piece of music that is viewed as extraordinary; allow yourself to marvel at the talent that went into producing it.


  1. Tell someone “thanks” who deserves it and is typically not recognized.
  2. Share your appreciation on a Post-It Note that you put on someone’s desk as a surprise or send it in a spontaneous e-mail.


  1. Consider a problem or struggle you are having. Write down two optimistic, realistic thoughts that bring comfort.
  2. Watch a movie that promotes a message of hope and think about how the message applies to your life.


  1. Do something spontaneous and playful around another person (e.g., saying something silly, contorting your body in a weird way, or telling a funny story or joke).
  2. Watch a classic comedy show you haven’t seen before and laugh as much as possible.


  1. Read about a religion/spirituality different from your own and look for ways in which the core messages parallel one another.
  2. Contemplate the “sacredness” of this present moment. Allow yourself to find meaning in the moment.

Remember: the intervention shown to be effective is for you to use a top strength in a new way every day (for a week). These ideas will get you started and to expand the ways you think about and use your strengths.

Still need more ideas? Check out these posts that give additional suggestions:

  • Article: Translating research into practice and tips for practitioners to overcome common obstacles in working with strengths. Includes how character strengths are expressed through your mind, heart, interpersonally, and intrapersonally.
  • Article: Character strengths use according to the ROAD MAP acronym of action verbs – reflect, observe, appreciate, discuss, monitor, ask, and plan.


Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). 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

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

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2014). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths (2nd edition). 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, D.C.:  American Psychological Association.

Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2014). Positive psychology interventions in people aged 50–79 years: long-term effects of placebo-controlled online interventions on well-being and depression. Aging & Mental Health, 18(8), 997-1005.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.