Science of Strengths

Why Character Matters

© VIA Institute on Character, used with permission.

Character Strengths in the Workplace
  • The use of strengths at work was connected with work performance, and this relationship is explained by vitality, concentration, and harmonious passion (Dubreuil, Forest, & Courcy, 2013).
  • Character strengths were related to job performance across two samples of employees (Harzer & Ruch, in press).
  • Employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a).
  • Regardless of which character strengths are used, the congruent use of strengths in the situational circumstances at work is important for fostering job satisfaction, pleasure, engagement, and meaning in one’s job (i.e., the alignment of one’s signature strengths with work activities is what matters; Harzer & Ruch, 2012b).
  • In a qualitative case study of a management development program, a key finding was to help managers develop new “tools” and behaviors and core to these tools was signature strengths use (Berg & Karlsen, 2012).
  • Across occupations, curiosity, zest, hope, gratitude, and spirituality are the Big 5 strengths associated with work satisfaction (Peterson et al., 2010).
  • Among volunteer and paid workers, endorsing strengths is related to meaning, but both endorsing AND deploying strengths is connected to well-being (Littman-Ovadia & Steger, 2010).
  • Character strengths use was connected with personal well-being and job satisfaction (Littman-Ovadia & Davidovitch, 2010).
  • Character strengths – especially zest, perseverance, hope, and curiosity – play a key role in health and ambitious work behavior (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
  • In a three-year thematic analysis of drivers of employee engagement, focusing on character strengths was among the three most crucial drivers (along with managing emotions and aligning purpose; Crabb, 2011). Specifically, employees are encouraged to identify, use, and alert others of their signature strengths as well as converse with managers about strengths use opportunities in the organization.
  • In a unique study of top-level executive leaders of for-profit companies (studying only the strengths of honesty/integrity, bravery, perspective, social intelligence), each of these strengths were important for performance but honesty/integrity had the most contribution in explaining variance in executive performance (Sosik et al., 2012).
  • A study of strengths under the virtue of wisdom (creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective) found them to be related to higher performance on a creative task and negatively related to stress (Avey et al., 2012).
  • Among 226 employees, the strengths under the virtue of transcendence – hope, humor, gratitude, and spirituality (not appreciation of beauty/excellence) – had a direct positive relationship with a calling work orientation (Gorjian, 2006).
  • Life satisfaction strengths, spiritual strengths, and community-building strengths do not appear to be overtly encouraged in the workplace; instead it is the temperance and hardworking strengths that are emphasized (Money et al., 2008).
  • Top 10 (rank order) strengths expressed at work: honesty, judgment, perspective, fairness, perseverance, love of learning, leadership, zest, curiosity, social intelligence.
  • Bottom 5 (starting with lowest) strengths expressed at work: religiousness/spirituality, appreciation of beauty/excellence, love, bravery, modesty/humility.
  • Strengths of which were determined to be a “high match” with work demands: only honesty, judgment, perspective, fairness, and zest.
  • Appreciation of beauty/excellence was the only strength determined to be a “low match” with work demands; the rest of the strengths were a “medium match.”
  • Work demands required the individual to use more of the following strengths than what is natural for them: perseverance, love of learning, leadership, curiosity, self-control, and prudence.
  • Work demands required less of these strengths than what is natural for the individual: social intelligence, gratitude, teamwork, hope, humor, creativity, kindness, forgiveness, modesty/humility, bravery, love, appreciation of beauty/excellence, spirituality.
Signature Strengths
  • Strengths-based career counseling was compared with conventional career counseling and both client groups had an increase in daily strengths use but only the former had enhanced self-esteem. At 3-month follow-up, the strengths-based career counseling group had a higher rate of employment (81%) than the conventional career counseling group (60%) (Littman-Ovadia, Lazar-Butbul, & Benjamin, 2014). Another study examining career work examined the relationship between vocational personalities (e.g., artistic, social, etc.) and character strengths; for example, the strength of love of learning explained nearly 10% of the “investigative personality” (Littman-Ovadia, Potok, & Ruch, 2013).
  • Randomized-controlled study showed the relationship between strengths use (the previous day) and positive mood the following day, as well as a connection between decreased mood (the previous day) and strengths use the following day. Study showed that a relationship intervention (writing a brief letter to a loved one daily) amplified the positive effects of strengths deployment on mood (Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Bareli, in press).
  • In a study of 442 employees across 39 departments in 8 organizations, a strengths-based psychological climate was linked with positive affect and work performance (van Woerkom & Meyers, in press.
  • A normal population was randomly assigned to an Internet intervention (involving strengths work, gratitude, kindness, and other validated exercies) or a control group and the intervention group had improved balance of positive to negative affect over time (Drozd et al., 2014).
  • Both signature strengths and strengths balance (framed as “jack of all strengths” from the phrase “jack of all trades”) uniquely predicted higher well-being. In addition, subjects had stronger implicit associations with signature strengths than with their lower strengths (Young, Kashdan, & Macatee, 2014).
  • In a study examining the relationships (moderators) of signature strengths use, signature strengths level, life calling, and life satisfaction, individuals low in calling and high in signature strengths level had the strongest connection between signature strengths use and life satisfaction. A key finding here is that the use of signature strengths is particularly important for those low in meaning and purpose (Allan & Duffy, 2013).
  • A strengths training intervention (involving noticing when, where, and how top strengths are used and writing about this) was found to be effective in boosting life satisfaction in the short-run and long-run in the Chinese education context. The placebo effect was ruled out by having some participants informed of the purpose of the study and some not and finding that this had no long-term effect on life satisfaction (Duan, Ho, Tang, Li, & Zhang, 2013.
  • The VIA Institute conducted four studies investigating the initial concept, criteria, and suggested quantity of “signature” strengths in individuals. Studies 1 and 2 used two different approaches to signature strengths criteria defining the strength as energizing, natural, and essential to one’s core character. More than half of the subjects in each study identified having 11 or more signature strengths according to this more general definition. Studies 3 and 4 used more stringent criteria/methods. In these two studies about one third of individuals identified having 11 or more signature strengths and nearly 50% reported having 7 or fewer signature strengths. Additionally signature strengths were found to have significantly higher VIA scores than non-signature strengths. These results support the construct of signature strengths and indicate that the average number of signature strengths that people think of themselves as having is larger than positive psychology researchers originally proposed. Narrowing the criteria results in fewer strengths being identified as signature (Mayerson, 2013).
  • Using one’s signature strengths in a new way increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
  • The use of signature strengths elevates individuals’ harmonious passion (i.e., doing activities that are freely chosen without constraints, are highly important, and part of the individual’s identity). This then leads to higher well-being (Forest et al., 2012).
  • Using one’s signature strengths in a new way increased happiness for 6 months and decreased depression for 3 months (Mongrain & Anselmo-Matthews, 2012).
  • Student evaluations in an undergraduate psychology course that used blogs for students to explore the use of signature strengths in new ways and gratitude exercises were significantly higher than student evaluations in the same course that did not use blogs (Bridges, Harnish, & Sillman, 2012).
  • Among youth, the use of signature strengths in novel ways along with personally meaningful goal-setting led to increases in student engagement and hope (Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011).
  • A qualitative study examined the use of VIA strengths by women in the workplace and found that in all cases, strengths led to a “virtuous circle” in which the strengths use helped them overcome obstacles that had impeded strengths use. All subjects derived unique value from using character strengths at work (Elson & Boniwell, 2011).
  • In a longitudinal study, strengths use was found to be an important predictor of well-being and led to less stress and increased positive affect, vitality, and self-esteem at 3-month and 6-month follow-up (Wood et al., 2011).
  • There is a strong connection between well-being and the use of signature strengths because strengths helps us make progress on our goals and meet our basic needs for independence, relationship, and competence (Linley et al., 2010).
  • From student interviews it was found that those who are the best of the best at using signature strengths also maintain social support and build on their success which give them further confidence in their strengths use (Bowers & Lopez, 2010).
  • Random assignment to a group instructed to use 2 signature strengths or use 1 signature strength and 1 bottom strength revealed significant gains in satisfaction with life compared with a control group but no differences between the 2 treatment groups (Rust, Diessner, & Reade, 2009).
  • The identification of signature strengths followed by discussion with a friend about strengths and use of three signature strengths in daily life boost cognitive (but not affective) well-being at three months follow-up (Mitchell, Stanimirovic, Klein, & Vella-Brodrick, 2009).
  • The use of one’s top strengths leads to a decreased likelihood of depression and stress and an increase in satisfaction in law students (Peterson & Peterson, 2008).
  • Focusing on a therapy client’s strengths for 5 minutes prior to a session improves the therapeutic relationship, therapy outcomes, mastery experience, and strengths activation in the session; note that “strengths” focused on are not VIA strengths per se (Fluckiger et al., 2009; Fluckiger & Grosse Holtforth, 2008).
  • Using one’s signature strengths in a new and unique way is an effective intervention: it increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months (Seligman, Steen, Park, Peterson, 2005).
VIA Character Strengths in Positive Education (Children/Youth)
  • Flagship article on VIA in education arguing for a more individualized approach to the application of character strengths in education as differentiated from monolithic and one-size-fits-all (traditional) approaches to character that predominate both past and present. Presents research-based strengths practices for classrooms, schools, and educators (Linkins, Niemiec, Gillham, & Mayerson, 2014).
  • Examined a 6-session, character strengths program for 9-12 year-olds in a classroom setting compared with non-randomized controls. After 3 months, the strengths group scored significantly higher on class cohesion and relatedness need satisfaction and lower on class friction, in addition to higher positive emotion, classroom engagement, and strengths use (Quinlan, Swain, Cameron, & Vella-Brodrick, 2014).
  • Describes 5 character strengths initiatives woven into a large school (K-12), involving strengths in sport, student leadership, counseling, and English curriculum (White & Waters, 2014).
  • Longitudinal study revealing character virtues stability over three years for children between the ages of 12 and 14. Overall the virtues were stable across the three years with a slight increase in the virtues of humanity and justice, and girls scored higher than boys across the six VIA virtues over three assessment periods (Ferragut, Blanca, & Ortiz-Tallo, 2014).
  • High poverty, high performing adolescents from 3 urban schools experienced a focus on “performance character” or “moral character.” A moral character focus led to significantly higher levels of integrity while performance character focus led to significantly higher levels of perseverance and community connectedness (Seider, Novick, & Gomez, 2013).
  • In a longitudinal study of adolescent’ transition to middle school, intellectual and temperance strengths predicted school performance and achievement, interpersonal strengths related to school social functioning, and temperance and transcendence strengths predicted well-being (Shoshani & Slone, 2012).
  • In a study of children’s adjustment to first grade, parents’ intellectual, interpersonal, and temperance strengths related to their child’s school adjustment, while the children’s intellectual, interpersonal, temperance, and transcendence strengths related to first-grade adjustment (Shoshani & Ilanit Aviv, 2012).
  • In a study of adolescents’ character strengths and career/vocational interests, intellectual strengths were related to investigative and artistic career interests, transcendence and other-oriented strengths were related to social career interests, and leadership strengths were associated with enterprising career interests (Proyer, Sidler, Weber, & Ruch, 2012).
  • In a study of adolescent romantic relationships, honesty, humor, and love were the most preferred character strengths in an ideal partner (Weber & Ruch, 2012a).
  • Character strengths of the mind (e.g., self-regulation, perseverance, love of learning) were predictive of school success (Weber & Ruch, 2012b).
  • In a study of the VIA Youth Survey, five strengths factors emerged and were independently associated with well-being and happiness (Toner, Haslam, Robinson, & Williams, 2012).
  • A study of 319 adolescent students between the ages of 12-14 were divided into two groups in which 2/3 received character strengths-builder activities and strengths challenges within the school curriculum (called Strengths Gym), and 1/3 did not; those who participated in strengths experienced increased in life satisfaction compared to the controls (Proctor et al., 2011).
  • Among high school students, other-oriented strengths (e.g., kindness, teamwork) predicted fewer depression symptoms while transcendence strengths (e.g., spirituality) predicted greater life satisfaction (Gillham et al., 2011).
  • Reviews exercises and examples of applying siganture strengths in classroom work, classroom management, and curriculum, e.g., in art, history, language arts, transitions, service, and community (Molony & Henwood, 2010).
  • Positive education programming which heavily involves character strengths assessment and intervention led to improved student school skills and greater student enjoyment and engagement in school (e.g., improved curiosity, love of learning, and creativity; Seligman et al., 2009).
  • Among a Chinese sample, teachers high in zest, hope, and emotional strengths tended to experience more positive emotion, greater life satisfaction, and less negative emotions (Chan, 2009).
  • The most prevalent character strengths in very young children are love, kindness, creativity, curiosity, and humor (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
  • When compared with U.S. adults, youth from the U.S. are higher on the character strengths of hope, teamwork, and zest and adults are higher on appreciation of beauty & excellence, honesty, leadership, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006b).
  • Convergence of strengths between parents and child are modest except for spirituality where it is substantial (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
  • Character strengths with a developmental trajectory (least common in youth and increase over time through cognitive maturation) are appreciation of beauty & excellence, forgiveness, modesty, open-mindedness (Park & Peterson, 2006a; 2006b).
  • Focus groups with 459 high school students from 20 high schools found that students largely believe the 24 VIA strengths are acquired and that the strengths develop through ongoing experience, the students cited minimal character strength role models, and they particularly valued the strengths of love of learning, perspective, love, social intelligence, leadership, and spirituality (Steen, Kachorek, & Peterson, 2003).
Universality, Prevalence, and General
  • The process of working with character strengths involves three main steps, the Aware-Explore-Apply model, which involves strengths-spotting, combating strengths blindness and cultivating strengths awareness (aware); exploring strengths overuse, underuse, use across contexts, past use with problems and successes (explore); and taking action with goal-setting, deploying and aligning strengths, and valuing strengths in others (apply) (Niemiec, 2013).
  • The connection between character strengths and positive emotions was explored and the strengths most strongly loading as emotional strengths were zest, hope, bravery, humor, love, and social intelligence (Gusewell & Ruch, 2012).
  • A review of character strength interventions found small to moderate effect sizes while hypothesizing reasons why strength interventions work, such as factors relating to strengths use, need satisfaction, goal-setting, and goal-striving (Quinlan, Swain, & Vella-Brodrick, 2012).
  • In examining the packages of positive psychology interventions (offering 2, 4, or 6 exercises, or placebo), it was found that those offered 2 or 4 had the largest decreases in depression (Schueller & Parks, 2012). Exercises included using signature strengths in new ways, savoring, three good things, life summary, gratitude visit, and active-constructive responding.
  • In a randomized controlled study of interventions involving “strengths development” and “talent identification,” only the latter group was linked with a fixed mindset in which individuals believe their personal attributes are not amenable to change efforts (Louis, 2011).
  • In a study of gender differences and character strengths, women scored highest on the strengths of honesty, kindness, love, gratitude, and fairness, while men scored highest on honesty, hope, humor, gratitude, and curiosity. Life satisfaction was predicted by zest, gratitude, hope, appreciation of beauty/excellence, and love for women, while life satisfaction was predicted by creativity, perspective, fairness, and humor for men (Brdar, Anic, & Rijavec, 2011). Another study of gender differences found women to be higher on gratitude than men (Mann, 2014).
  • In a study of attachment orientations among 394 individuals, most character strengths were negatively associated with both avoidant and attachment orientations, and the strength of hope was a mediator for both orientations (Lavy & Littman-Ovadia, 2011).
  • Strengths can be cultivated through enhanced awareness, accessibility, and effort and are highly contextualized phenomena that emerge in patterns and alongside goals, interests, and values (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan, & Minhas, 2011).
  • In a sample of over 83,000 people taking the VIA-Survey, researchers did not find evidence for a distinct state of superior functioning (e.g., enlightenment or wisdom) indicating that character strengths are dimensional (not categorical like DSM mental disorders; McGrath, Rashid, Park, & Peterson, 2010).
  • In examining participants’ preferences for positive psychology exercises, those who benefited most from using signature strengths in new ways had a strong preference for the gratitude visit intervention (Schueller, 2010). Participants had a preference for matched exercises than unmatched exercises and subsequently reported higher well-being; no differences were found in terms of adherence (Schueller, 2011). Another study found that two groups (a group who selected their preference for an intervention and a group randomly assigned) had equally positive increases in happiness and decreases in depression; in addition to gratitude exercises, another intervention was using signature strengths in a new way (Silberman, 2007).
  • Character strengths are moderately heritable (Steger, Hicks, Kashdan, Krueger, & Bouchard, 2007).
  • Character may occupy the most central role in the field of positive psychology. Pleasure, flow, and other positive experiences are enabled by good character (Park & Peterson, 2009a; Peterson, Ruch, Beerman, Park, & Seligman, 2007).
  • Twin studies show that love, humor, modesty, and teamwork are most influenced by environmental factors (Steger et al., 2007).
  • The most prevalent character strengths in a UK sample were open-mindedness, fairness, curiosity, love of learning, and kindness (Linley et al., 2007).
  • Young adults (ages 18-24) from the US and Japan showed similar distributions of VIA strengths – higher strengths of kindness, humor, and love and lower strengths in prudence, modesty, and self-regulation; in addition females reported more kindness and love while males reported more bravery and creativity (Shimai, Otake, Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • The most prevalent character strengths in human beings in descending order are kindness, fairness, honesty, gratitude, judgment (McGrath, 2014; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • The least prevalent character strengths in human beings are prudence, modesty, and self-regulation (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • Character strengths are universal (Dahlsgaard, Peterson, & Seligman, 2005; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006). High rates of agreement, desirability, and development of VIA character strengths were found in remote cultures (Kenyan Maasai & Inughuit in Northern Greenland) and the U.S. (U. of Illinois students; Biswas-Diener, 2006). VIA character strengths are remarkably similar across 54 nations and across the United States (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006).
  • There are 24 strengths of character that meet 8, 9, or all 10 of the following criteria: fulfilling, morally valued, do not diminish others; nonfelicitous opposites; traitlike; distinctiveness; paragons; prodigies; selective absence; institutions/rituals (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). A number of factor analyses have been conducted on the adult VIA Survey. Most studies find four or five factors to emerge. By far, the largest study using over 650,000 subjects (McGrath, 2013) found four factors. For citations, see Brdar and Kashdan (2010); Choubisa & Singh (2011); Khumalo, Wissing, & Temane, (2008); Littman-Ovadia & Lavy (2012); Macdonald, Bore, and Munro (2008); McGrath (2013); Peterson et al. (2008); Ruch et al. (2010); Shryack, Steger, Krueger, and Kallie (2010); Singh and Choubisa (2010).
  • Additional structural, cross-cultural, and psychometric analyses have been conducted in the VIA Survey, for other examples, see Duan, Li, & Zhang (2011); Haslam, Bain, & Neal (2004); Littman-Ovadia & Lavy (2012), Wen-jie et al. (2011). Click for full reference.
  • Properties of the VIA Youth Survey (for ages 10-17) are discussed in several articles, for examples, see Park & Peterson (2005); Park & Peterson (2006b); Ruch et al. (2013); Toner et al. (2012); van Eeden et al. (2008).Click for full reference.
  • There are two studies that examine relationships between the VIA Survey and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). One study (Choong & Britton, 2007) found nine significant covariations such as creativity-intuition; fairness-sensing; gratitude extroversion; perseverance-judging. The other study (Munro, Chilimanzi, & O’Neill) found several findings including extraverts scoring stronger on curiosity and humor compared to introverts and appreciation of beauty excellence scorers being higher on intuition. Click for full reference.
Character Strengths and Life Satisfaction
  • Several of the character strengths that have shown repeatedly to correlate highly with life satisfaction were put to the test. Participants were assigned to an experimental group targeting those strengths (e.g., zest, hope, gratitude, curiosity, and humor), another group targeting strengths with lower correlations with life satisfaction (e.g., appreciation of beauty/excellence, creativity, kindness, love of learning, perspective), or a wait-list control. The first group showed the strongest improvements in life satisfaction, however, participants in both intervention groups subjectively reported higher gains in well-being than the control group (Proyer, Ruch, & Buschor, 2012).
  • In a sample of 334 Swiss adults and 634 peer (informant) ratings, the results converged suggesting that hope, zest, and curiosity (and gratitude and love) have key roles in the connection between character strengths and life satisfaction. Informant reports also related positively to the endorsement of pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Buschor, Proyer, & Ruch, 2013).
  • In a study examining strength factors, the transcendence strengths were the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and positive affect, while all the strength factors related to self-efficacy in which the leadership factor was the strongest predictor. This research highlights how different strengths are relevant for different positive outcomes (Weber et al., 2013).
  • In addition to replication of the connection between hope, gratitude, love, zest, and curiosity with life satisfaction, the strengths that were the best predictors of future life satisfaction were hope and spirituality (Proyer et al., 2011).
  • Three groups emerged in a study of 27 nations and routes to happiness: nations high in pleasure & engagement; those high in engagement & meaning; and those low in pleasure, engagement, & meaning. Nations highest in each route were: South Africa (pleasure), Switzerland (engagement), and South Korea (meaning). All pathways predicted life satisfaction, wherein meaning & engagement are most robust (replication; Park, Peterson, & Ruch, 2009).
  • Pleasure, engagement, and meaning predicted life satisfaction in both Australian and US samples, and replicated the finding that there are stronger relationships with the latter two (Vella-Brodrick, Park, & Peterson, 2009).
  • Viewing one’s work as a “calling” in which one’s work is viewed as a source of fulfillment that is socially useful and personal meaningful, rather than as financial reward or career advancement, is predicted by the character strength of zest (Peterson et al., 2009). Among youth, the character strengths most related to life satisfaction are love, gratitude, hope, and zest; very young children (ages 3-9) described by their parents as happy are also noted as showing love, hope, and zest (Park & Peterson, 2009b). Click for full reference.
  • In a survey of the VIA classification with 839 Croatians, only curiosity and zest were consistently part of the top 5 strengths linked to attaining pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010). Click for full reference.
  • Replication study finding similarly strong (e.g., hope, zest) and weak (e.g., modesty, appreciation of beauty & excellence) correlations with life satisfaction in a sample of Swiss, Germans, and Austrians; life satisfaction was highest among the Swiss (Ruch et al., 2007). Click for full reference.
  • Total score on the VIA-IS (all 24 character strengths) correlated positively with life satisfaction (.44) indicating that strong character is associated with happiness and the good life (Ruch et al., 2007). Click for full reference.
  • Life satisfaction increased with degree of virtuousness (development of character strengths) but was more apparent of an increase for the less virtuous (Ruch et al., 2007).
  • The character strengths most associated with the meaning route to happiness are religiousness, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity (Peterson et al., 2007).
  • The character strengths most associated with the engagement route to happiness are zest, curiosity, hope, perseverance, and perspective (Peterson et al., 2007).
  • The character strengths most associated with the pleasure route to happiness are humor, zest, hope, social intelligence, and love (Peterson et al., 2007).
  • Among young adults from the US and Japan, happiness was associated with zest, hope, curiosity, and gratitude (Shimai et al., 2006).
  • Parent’s strength of self-regulation was strongly associated with his or her child’s life satisfaction, but not their own (Park & Peterson, 2006a).
  • The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005).
  • The 5 character strengths most highly related to life satisfaction are hope (r = .53), zest (r = .52), gratitude (r = .43), curiosity (r = .39), and love (r = .35). These strengths consistently and repeatedly show a robust, consistent relationship with life satisfaction (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). The correlations given were from a sample of 3907 individuals; see article for data on two additional samples.
  • The character strengths least related to life satisfaction (weak association) are modesty/humility, creativity, appreciation of beauty & excellence, judgment/open-mindedness, and love of learning (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).
Character Strengths and Health/Wellness
  • Greater endorsement of character strengths is associated with a number of health behaviors, such as feeling healthy, leading an active way of life (e.g., zest), the pursuit of enjoyable activities, healthy eating, watching one’s food, and physical fitness. All character strengths (except humility and spirituality) were associated with multiple health behaviors. While self-regulation had the highest associations overall, curiosity, appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, hope, and humor also displayed strong connections with health behaviors (Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohn, & Ruch, 2013).
  • This study of individuals with spinal cord injury suggests targeted exercises to build character strengths will promote higher community participation and well-being to assist in rehabilitation (Chan et al., 2013).
  • Character strengths were highly correlated with well-being subscales of self-acceptance, purpose, and environmental mastery, as well as good physical and mental health (Leontopoulou & Triliva, 2012).
  • Older adult patients with a chronic physical disability at an inpatient rehabilitation facility were randomly assigned to a 7-day strengths-based intervention group or a control group and significant improvement on distress was found for the treatment group (O’Donnell, 2013).
  • A pilot character strengths-focused group (4 sessions) for caretakers of children with cerebral palsy found significantly lower parent stress and higher hope at the conclusion of the group and at 1-month follow-up (Fung et al., 2011).
  • Individuals who use their character strengths experienced greater well-being, which was related to both physical and mental health. Strengths use was a unique predictor of subjective well-being after self-esteem and self-efficacy were controlled for (Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2009).
  • Character strengths were associated with lower levels of sexual behaviors and sex-related beliefs among African-American adolescents. Specifically on the VIA, higher love of learning was related to boys’ self-reported abstinence from sexual intercourse and boys’ & girls’ self-reported abstinence from drug use; higher curiosity was related to boys’ & girls’ belief in no premarital sex (love of learning was also significant for boys); prudence was related to reported abstinence from sexual intimacy; judgment was related to sexual initiation efficacy for girls & boys (leadership was also significant for girls; Ma et al., 2008).
  • Adolescent students who counted blessings reported higher levels of optimism and life satisfaction, less negative affect, and fewer physical symptoms (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
  • Hope was a significant predictor of medication adherence among asthma patients between 8 and 12 (Berg, Rapoff, Snyder, & Belmont, 2007).
  • When an individual has a physical disorder, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if they are high on the character strengths of bravery, kindness, and humor (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006).
  • When an individual has a psychological disorder, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if they are high on the character strengths of appreciation of beauty & excellence and love of learning (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006).
  • The strengths of the “heart” (e.g., love, gratitude) are more strongly associated with well-being than are strengths of the “head” (e.g., creativity, open-mindedness/judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence; Park & Peterson, 2008b; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).
  • The practice of gratitude (counting blessings) is linked to fewer physical symptoms, more optimistic life appraisals, and more time exercising and improved well-being and optimal functioning (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • The practice of gratitude is linked to increases in well-being among those with neuromuscular disease (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Grateful individuals report higher positive mood, optimism, life satisfaction, vitality, religiousness and spirituality, and less depression and envy than less grateful individuals (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
  • Grateful people tend to be more helpful, supportive, forgiving, empathic, and agreeable (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
Character Strengths and Achievement
  • The character strengths – perseverance, love, gratitude, and hope – predict academic achievement in middle school students and college students (reported in Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Effective teachers (judged by the gains of their students on standardized tests) are those who are high in social intelligence, zest, and humor in a longitudinal study (reported in Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Popular students, as identified by teacher ratings, are more likely to score highly on civic strengths such as leadership and fairness, and temperance strengths of self-regulation, prudence, and forgiveness.  Interestingly, none of the humanity strengths such as love and kindness were related to popularity (Park & Peterson, 2009b).
  • Academic achievement among school children is predicted by perseverance and temperance strengths (Peterson & Park, 2009).
  • Military performance among West Point cadets was predicted by the character strength of love (Peterson & Park, 2009).
  • Military leaders’ character strength of humor predicted their followers’ trust while followers’ character strength of perspective earned their leaders’ trust (Sweeney et al., 2009).
  • Strengths that predicted GPA in college students were perseverance, love of learning, humor, fairness, and kindness (Lounsbury et al., 2009).
  • Predictors of college satisfaction were hope, social intelligence, self-regulation, and fairness (Lounsbury et al., 2009).
  • After controlling for IQ, strengths of perseverance, fairness, gratitude, honesty, hope, and perspective predicted GPA (Park & Peterson, 2008a).
  • Character strengths are related to achievement, life satisfaction, and well-being in children and youth (Park & Peterson, 2008a).
  • The combined use of the VIA Survey and The Teacher Behaviors Checklist offers a new approach in faculty development that assists faculty in becoming more reflective and deliberate about their teaching and learning strategies (McGovern & Miller, 2008).
  • In a study of nearly 1200 kids who wore a beeping watch leading them to write about their thoughts, feelings, and actions eight times per day, the most curious kids were compared with the bored kids (the top 207 and the bottom 207). The curious were more optimistic, hopeful, confident, and had a higher sense of self-determination and self-efficacy believing they were in control of their actions and decisions, than the bored kids who felt like pawns with no control of their destiny (Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003).
  • Higher hope levels are related to greater scholastic and social competence and to creativity levels (Onwuegbuzie, 1999).
Character Strengths and Mental Illness, Problems, Trauma Recovery
  • Character strengths changes were examined in groups before and after three tragedies that occurred in diffferent parts of the U.S. Significant changes in strengths were found for one of the tragedies and changes were not consistent across the three (Schueller et al., 2014).
  • Feasibility study of impact of signature strengths exercise and gratitude exercise for people with traumatic brain injury. Random assignment found the interventions group to be superior to the control group on happiness and mood with no significant improvement on self-concept (Andrewes, Walker, & O’Neill, 2014).
  • Several character strengths were examined in relation to mental health stigma and found that social intelligence and kindness were associated with less stigma, while those with judgment/critical thinking were less likely to hold those with disorders personally responsible for aquiring the condition (Vertilo & Gibson, 2014).
  • An exploratory, feasibility study of suicidal inpatients found that there was good benefit to applying positive psychology exercises for this population. Clinically relevant benefits including improved levels of hopelessness and optimism were found. Exercises included deliberate use of a character strength, gratitude letter, acts of kindness, best possible self, commitment to values-based living, and others (Huffman et al., 2013).
  • Reviewed the research on positive psychology interventions and addictions and recovery (Krentzman, 2013); one of the focus areas examined character strengths and drinking behaviors. For example, Logan, Kilmer, and Marlatt (2010) found those students who abstained from drinking had higher scores than drinkers on all 6 VIA Classification virtues with significantly higher scores on justice, temperance, and transcendence. Not surprisingly temperance was the most robust virtue across each analysis.
  • Examined the character strength of humor among people with Asperger’s/autism and found that it was the 16th highest strength on average compared with typically developing individuals (matched by age, gender, and education) in which humor ranked 8th. In addition, humor was related only to the life of pleasure among people with Asperger’s whereas humor was related to pleasure, engagement, meaning, and life satisfaction among typically developing individuals (Samson & Antonelli, 2013).
  • Character strengths buffer people from vulnerabilities that can lead to depression and anxiety, such as the need for approval and perfectionism (Huta & Hawley, 2010). In psychiatric rehab programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the act of simply taking the VIA Survey is experienced as a positive intervention with most participants reporting positive outcomes; an additional intervention used is veterans carrying a prompt with them (i.e., a strengths card”) which serves as a reminder of their signature strengths (Kobau et al., 2011).
  • Tayyab Rashid (2009; Rashid & Ostermann, 2009) discusses the rationale, importance, tenets, cautions, and conceptual framework for the use of character strengths in clinical psychology practice. For example, he argues that psychotherapists should assess and construct therapeutic exercises not just around transgressions but also compassion, not just targeting grudges and vengeance but also gratitude and forgiveness, not just negativity but also love and kindness.
  • Hope, kindness, social intelligence, self-regulation, and perspective buffer against the negative effects of stress and trauma (Park & Peterson, 2006c; Park & Peterson, 2009a).
  • Character strengths encompass 60-70% of the programming and interventions that make up positive psychotherapy which has been found in trials to be beneficial for adults and children suffering from depression and anxiety (Rashid & Anjum, 2007; Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006).
  • Persistence, honesty, prudence, and love were substantially related to fewer externalizing problems such as aggression (Park & Peterson, 2008a).
  • Hope, zest, and leadership were substantially related to fewer problems with anxiety and depression (Park & Peterson, 2008a).
  • Posttraumatic growth in various dimensions corresponds with particular character strengths: improved relationships with others (kindness, love), openness to new possibilities (curiosity, creativity, love of learning), greater appreciation of life (appreciation of beauty, gratitude, zest), enhanced personal strength (bravery, honesty, perseverance), and spiritual development (religiousness; Peterson et al., 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995).
  • The more traumatic events an individual reports, the higher the character strength scores (with the exception of gratitude, hope, and love; Peterson et al., 2008).
  • Hope is negatively related to indicators of psychological distress and school maladjustment (internalizing and externalizing behaviors; Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006). Click for full reference.
  • Gratitude, hope, kindness, leadership, love, spirituality, and teamwork all increased in a U.S. sample (but not a European sample) two months after the September 11th (2001) attack on the World Trade Center in New York City; ten months after September 11th, these character strengths were still elevated but to a lesser degree (Peterson & Seligman, 2003). Character Strengths and Mindfulness
  • Initial pilot data and qualitative reviews of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), an 8-week program that integrates and builds character strengths and mindfulness, is beneficial in boosting well-being, signature strengths, engagement, purpose, and positive relationships (Niemiec, 2014).
  • Mindfulness helps to overcome blind spots in self-knowledge, such as the quality and quantity of information individuals have about themselves and how people process information about themselves (Carlson, 2013).
  • Increased amount of time spent using strengths has been found to correlate significantly with mindfulness (Jarden et al., 2012).
  • The integration of mindfulness and character strengths creates a synergy of mutual benefit that can foster a virtuous circle in which mindful awareness boosts strengths use which, in turn, enlivens mindfulness (Niemiec, Rashid, & Spinella, 2012).
  • In examining principles of mindful living, 16 character strengths interventions are suggested to enhance and support healthy, mindful living (Niemiec, 2012).
  • Researchers have proposed the possibility that if everyone has signature strengths and if mindfulness can enhance their use then it’s possible mindfulness could be beneficial for most people (Baer & Lykins, 2011).
  • Mindfulness and curiosity each help to align individuals’ actual self (people’s beliefs about who they think they are) and their ideal self (the image people would like to be; Ivtzan, Gardner, & Smailova, 2011). This relates to the character strengths work of knowing one’s core self or identity.
  • Mindfulness provides exposure or a new perspective of one’s internal and external environments (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007).
  • Mindfulness may facilitate successful self-regulation and self-regulation may facilitate greater mindfulness (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007).
  • The two-part, operational definition for mindfulness by 11 leading scientists embodies two character strengths – mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance (Bishop et al., 2004). Character Strengths Interactions
  • This article presents several studies that support the mutual impact (predictive abilities) of two character strengths upon one another). It found that gratitude and humility reinforce one another (Kruse et al., 2014). The VIA Institute has referred to this phenomenon in which the expression of one strength naturally elicit the expression of other strengths as “the towing principle” and also as a “virtuous circle.”
  • This study draws a connection between humility, awe, and spirituality, in a religious context (Krause & Hayward, 2014).
  • This study in the workplace finds a connection between emotional intelligence and teamwork (Farh, Seo, & Tesluk, 2012).
  • This study draws a relationship between one dimension of spirituality/religiousness (positive/neutral reminders of God) and improved self-regulation (Laurin, Kay, & Fitzsimons, 2011).
  • The interaction of teamwork and love of learning are at the heart of this article reviewing a pedagogy around team-based learning, which lead to student strengths development (Thomas & McPherson, 2011).
  • This study examines the unique effects of gratitude and of forgiveness and finds that the former is often more robust than the latter for a variety of mental health outcomes; argues for more studies reflecting on character strength profiles/combinations, rather than solely studying strengths in isolation from one another (Breen et al., 2010).
  • This study examined the predictive potential of self-compassion (i.e., the character strength of kindness turned inward). This strength related positively with wisdom/perspective and optimism/hope, among other positive benefits (Neely et al., 2009).