Character Strengths: A Primer

Opening Words

The use of signature strengths at work and in life generally is assumed to facilitate wellbeing and performance. The assumption is based on research literature published in well-established peer-reviewed journals and can be considered valid in the year 2021 of the lord; in the year 2022, you may check in again and see if the world is still running accordingly.

Our interest is in the use of strengths. Potential is good; actualizing potential for the benefit of all is better. Capacity is the filter through which potential is actualized and used. Thank you.

Each VIA 24 character strengths summary is presented with a walk-through of optimal use, overuse, and underuse in a personal, organizational, and societal context.

You are invited to hone your specific strengths by opening up possibilities to explore them.

May this serve you and your community well.

Your VIA Character Strengths Profile

Your VIA Character Strengths Profile is your personalized list of 24 character strengths ranked based on the degree to which you rated that they are “like” or “not like” you.

{For the Mustafa, the profile, assessed on 31.05.2021, gives the ranked list:

Honesty, Love of Learning, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Appreciation of Beauty;

Kindness, Fairness, Perseverance, Curiosity, Humility;

Self-Regulation, Humor, Hope, Perspective, Social Intelligence;

Prudence, Spirituality, Creativity, Teamwork, Leadership;

Zest, Love, Judgment, Bravery}

Taking Perspective

Optimal Use: Balance the use of your strengths by exploring how your strengths can be underused, overused, and optimally used.

Virtues: Discover how the strengths cluster into six virtue categories and learn your highest virtue. {Revealed in the paid version of the VIA-IS report.}

What does knowing your highest virtue tell you about yourself?

What is it like to be considered strong in a characteristic that the best thinkers have valued throughout time?

How might you tap into this virtue to reach your goals?

Character Strengths Expression Map: Gain perspective on your signature strengths across two key dimensions of your personality; relational/interpersonal/other focused – inward/intrapersonal/self-focused dimension and heart – head/mind dimension.

Happiness Strengths: What are your results related to the five strengths most closely related to happiness: gratitude, curiosity, vitality, hope, and the capacity to love and be loved?

Questions for further discussion:

Identify a professional achievement that positively impacted you. How did your signature strengths contribute to the results?

Do you sometimes rely too much on any one of your signature strengths to your potential detriment?

How could you improve how you utilize your strengths the next time you are up against a challenge?

To identify your strengths profile, you may use the VIA Character Strengths Survey at Alternatively, use the simplified survey from the book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman.

Learn the language of strengths; learn about strengths

Identify your signature strengths; gain more insight into them (Know Yourself)

Learn how to spot strength-use by yourself or others

Identify strategies to maximize your strengths, deepen and apply your understanding of them

Use your strengths intentionally and optimally (Choose Yourself)

Engage your strengths in the pursuit of self-concordant goals (Give Yourself)

Make your leadership endeavor more meaningful if you wish.

Mindfulness and Character Strengths

{Niemiec, Rashid, & Spinella, 2012. Strong Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 34, No. 3}


Mindfulness involves the cultivation of attention infused by unconditional friendliness and interest. The Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) is an eight-week program that integrates mindfulness and character strengths to improve participants’ engagement with life, meaning, relationships, coping, and wellbeing. Strengths integrated mindfulness practice offers a way to confront, manage, and overcome obstacles that naturally emerge during mindfulness practice (e.g., mind wandering, painful body sensations); it gives concrete tools to widen perspective and deepen practice by employing particular strengths (e.g., perseverance) as needed during mindfulness practice; provides a language to capture positive states and traits that can often be outcomes of mindfulness; facilitates increased self-awareness and potential for change by bringing one’s character strengths more clearly into view.

Integration may well be a gateway for flourishing, deeper engagement in work, a higher sense of meaning and purpose, higher physical and psychological wellbeing, and improved relationships.

Background and Research

Character strengths are capacities of cognition, conation, affect, and behavior. They are the psychological ingredients for displaying virtues or human goodness. They are dimensional, considered in degrees, and vary in relevance depending on the context.

Mindfulness has two core elements; one is the self-regulation of attention toward the present moment, whether to internal experience (e.g., thoughts, memories, emotions) or external (e.g., sights, sounds, touch, etc.); another is curiosity, openness, and acceptance of the experience in the present moment. These two elements are essentially character strengths: self-regulation and curiosity.

Mindfulness could even be described as an overarching human strength closely linked with wellbeing and the ability to adaptively self-regulate feelings and actions. A mindful disposition requires repeated effort, usually through regular mindfulness (self-regulation) practice, leading to healthier regulation of emotions and actions. Psychological phenomena are treated as transitory and impermanent, offering new insights by enhancing cognitive flexibility, which decreases the need to control or alter the environment and experiences; the individual then moves toward more acceptance and genuine appreciation.

Mindfulness naturally engenders positive emotions. A mindfulness program can explicitly focus on using awareness, explorations, and enhancement of positive phenomena integrated with a focus on core, positive personality traits, such as character strengths.

Mindfulness seems to be a core feature of many cognitive-oriented strengths (the virtue of wisdom and knowledge) and self-control-oriented strengths (the virtue of temperance). For example, curiosity (pursuing novelty) and judgment (being open to new information) might be seen as acts of creativity and learning. Self-regulation strategies are based on feedback loops that can be enhanced through attention, making the temperance strength of self-regulation central to mindfulness.

The other-oriented, interpersonal strengths related to the virtues of humanity and justice may often be the fruits of mindfulness practice. Kindness, an interpersonal strength, is vital to the process of mindfulness and to maintaining regular practice. The connection between mindfulness, spirituality, and meaning links the transcendence strengths to meaningful practice. The strength of courage might be called forth to deal with internal and external obstacles consistent with a genuine, deep mindfulness practice. Mindfulness correlates positively with persistence and authenticity (a dimension of the strength of honesty).

Character Strengths and Mindfulness Practices

Some character strengths promote and enhance mindfulness practice, some are part of the core process of mindfulness, and some are practice outcomes. Each type of practice requires perseverance, self-kindness, and perspective.

Raisin exercise: Participants take several minutes to explore and eat a single raisin using curiosity and an open “beginner’s mind”; regulating their attention by returning their wandering minds to exploring the object of their attention, the raisin, with curiosity and interest.

Body scan and mindful yoga: The practice invites participants to be curious and accepting of their body and its wonders, beauties, and limitations and to be kind and compassionate toward it during the practice.

Breathing space exercise: In three steps and three minutes, the practice is to tune in to the present moment, focusing on the breath, and then expanding the awareness to sense the whole body. Three strengths are practiced, one for each minute of the breathing space: curiosity in the awareness phase, self-regulation in the concentration phase, and perspective in the expanded awareness phase.

Mindful speech and listening: This practice involves speaking with honesty and listening with kindness and compassion. Regular practice of mindfulness in general and mindful speech and listening, in particular, is associated with better relationships and ability to cope with stress, higher relationship satisfaction, better communication during discussions, and lower emotional stress responses during discussions of conflicts and post-conflict perception of the relationship.

Mindful walking: Character strengths of zest, enthusiasm, energy, and vitality may become mobilized as individuals become more active and consciously aware of their movement. Observing external and internal environments while taking slow, deliberate steps may enhance appreciation of beauty and excellence.

Mindful driving: The strength of prudence is essential generally in bringing individuals to attend to the short-term effects of their actions, making wise, practical decisions, and exercising the core element of prudence, “wise caution.” This can counterbalance those who overuse bravery behind the wheel.

Mindful consuming: Gratitude, appreciation of beauty, kindness, self-regulation, and perspective may all be involved in mindful consuming, as well as more ecologically responsible behavior, which might be seen as citizenship, a dimension of teamwork strength. These are related to a values orientation and greater collective and personal wellbeing.

Improving self-regulation in one area improves the general capacity to self-regulate, thus impacting other areas of functioning. Mindful consumption can be understood as anything taken into the body and mind. It can be used proactively to enhance and inspire character strengths, positivity, and meaning through books and movies that portray character strengths and inspiring themes.

Dealing with obstacles

Dealing with obstacles is perseverance, pushing onward, and repeatedly moving beyond the challenges that emerge in practice.

Bravery, also called psychological courage, is demonstrated as one works through unpleasant mental, emotional, or physical content during mindfulness practice.

Zest, enthusiasm, or energy becomes important as mindfulness practice involves a careful balance of effort to avoid the extremes of either lethargy or agitation. Excessive lethargy calls for more enthusiasm.

Perspective, which requires self-knowledge, realizing larger patterns of meaning, and taking a broader view, relates to the de-centering aspect of mindfulness, where one learns to avoid identifying with thoughts, emotions, and sensations and experience them simply as cognitive events, making it possible to see these as temporary phenomena rather than creating an identity from them. In addition, perspective suggests the relevance of humility or modesty and humor, which can strip some seriousness away from practice and bring the focus back to what is essential.

Finally, any other-oriented character strength, such as love, kindness, fairness, and forgiveness, can be shifted toward oneself to overcome obstacles. For example, being fair to oneself regarding the amount of time available for practice, expressing forgiveness or letting go of limitations and struggles, and directing loving-kindness inward can be healthy ways to promote the practice.

In practicing mindfulness, one has more opportunities to deploy and build these character strengths and overcome and address barriers to practice through using and deploying the character strengths, creating a virtuous cycle of deepening practice and enhancing strengths.

Signature Strengths: Essential, Effortless, and Energizing

Each human possesses each of the 24 character strengths. However, some of these strengths may shape who we are more than others: These are our signature strengths, and they have three key features; they are essential, effortless, and energizing. Our signature strengths are essential to who we are, and they exemplify our good traits. The “Subtract a Signature Strength” intervention helps us reflect on how fundamental our signature strengths are for us. When we use our signature strengths, it feels effortless. A sense of flow when using strength is a good indicator that we’re applying a signature strength. The “Appreciative Interview” intervention helps us to discover moments when we were doing things without effort. When we act from our signature strengths, it gives us energy. We often experience positive emotions; we feel satisfied or even thrilled. Using our signature strengths makes us feel energetic enough to do more. “Discover Your Strengths” intervention helps us to find these energizing strengths.

Selecting interventions: How to build strengths habits

Interventions should be helpful to the client in the context of their goal. So, what is the client’s goal, and how can character strengths help attain that goal?

People improve or build upon their strengths by following four steps. First, they increase self-knowledge by becoming more aware of signature strengths; they learn the language of character strengths, their signature strengths, and how to recognize strengths in others. One appropriate intervention would be “Discover Your Strengths.”

With the client knowing their strengths, exploring these strengths is the next step. “Discover Strengths” and “Appreciate Strengths” interventions help your client to get a deeper understanding of what her strengths mean, what these strengths look like in action, and whether the strengths are essential, effortless, and energizing.

The third step is to bring the insights into action. How can the client act upon her strengths? The interventions “Apply Strengths,” “Balance Strengths Use,” and “Develop Strengths” guide the client in building on strengths and using the power and energy they generate.

The fourth step is maintenance, and most important for lasting change. Working on change might generate excitement and focus that helps clients keep up their good intentions. Regularly going through the first three steps will help your clients continue working from their strengths, keep up their strengths use, be aware of new opportunities and pitfalls for balanced use, and build strengths habits.

Tailoring interventions

Explaining why you work this way might be helpful when working with clients with strengths. People are inclined to focus on their problems and need to know that strengths work does not ignore or avoid all the negatives. Instead, we help clients search for ways of overcoming or accepting their problems using their signature strengths. The client may initially have instrumental goals like more happiness, higher work performance, etc. These are outcomes expected when people use their signature strengths more often, as well as an increase in meaning and purpose.

As the client becomes more familiar with her strengths, she may choose and tailor interventions to her current goals independently and use most interventions alone without guidance, increasing energy and ownership.

Some strengths are personal; some are social and may be collectively engaged in team settings. Letting team members work on team signature strengths, team overuse and underuse, or strengths-use in the team might be helpful in team building and improving work performance and wellbeing in any team. The coach can adapt interventions so the team or family members can do the exercises as a group. Beyond social strengths, individual strengths will also shine through and shine in these conversations. Feeding back individual outcomes to a team might be a great way of creating a better understanding between team members.

The facilitator should ensure psychological safety in group settings, so people feel safe to have conversations revealing personal information. This is especially helpful when working with interventions dealing with underuse, overuse, or difficult situations. More sensitive and private work may be done in pairs, and reporting back to the group should be a personal choice.

Establishing clear guidelines for offering respectful and careful feedback is necessary before allowing other people to give someone input for some intervention, such as “Know When You’re Overusing a Strength.”

Homework can have the advantage of letting clients do an exercise on their own to immediately apply it in daily life, appealing to their motivation and building up their skills in working with their signature strengths. However, the client needs to be proficient in spotting and using strengths to complete a particular homework activity. Instructions should be clear enough for the client to know what they need to do.

Signature Strengths-Spotting in Yourself

Your top 5 positive qualities are likely to come naturally to you; therefore, you don’t always recognize them as strengths or realize how often you use them. Signature strengths-spotting involves actively looking for the expression of these strengths in your life, work, and relationships.

Consider a recent situation where you used one or more of your signature strengths to improve a situation. Think about how your strengths benefited you or others. For example, maybe you felt a greater connection to someone, noticed a positive boost in your mood, or helped motivate someone around you. Remember that your signature strengths are the core of who you are, and you can express them repeatedly to your advantage.

How to Use Signature Strengths

The best way to make the most of your signature strengths is to use them in new and different ways. Whether you use them with your problems or to be more productive at work, integrate them into your daily routines. If you use your signature strengths in new ways each day, you can experience a long-term boost in your happiness.

Follow these steps to take your signature strengths to the next level. You’ll be tapping into and expressing the core part of who you are – your authentic self.

Select a Signature Strength: Choose one of your signature strengths. For example, you might choose the one you’d like to better understand and build upon or one with which you want to deepen your experience.

Practice Using the Strength in A New Way: Your signature strengths are those strengths that come most naturally to you. The challenge is to think of new ways to express these strengths and practice using them in new ways each day for one week. See the ideas in the following activity chart to get you started.

Exercises for Strength-Building: Signature Strengths Activity Chart

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Keep a weekly log of moments in your relationships when you feel inspired by the good acts of others. Keeping a beauty log can enhance an individual’s engagement with the beauty around them. When something beautiful is seen or felt, whether it is from nature, is human-made (e.g., artwork), or is the virtuous behavior of others (i.e., moral beauty), writing down thoughts and feelings in a log or journal can increase awareness and deepen experiences.


Count your blessings by reflecting on your day and tracking the good things that happened throughout the day by writing down three things that occurred, why you are grateful for them, and what role you played in the experience.

Forgiveness, mercy

The following is a five-step process to boost forgiveness: Recall the hurt; empathize as best as you can – see the situation from the other person’s point of view; consider forgiveness as an act of altruism by recalling the gratitude felt over being forgiven; commit to forgive over the long-run; hold on to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and needs to be repeated and practiced.


Recognize the degree to which you alter or modify your opinions, feelings, and behavior based on what you think other people’s expectations are. Work to develop relationships in which you can be authentic.

Love of Learning

Identify where your highest interests in learning are and then work to discover your preferred ways of learning about that subject, whether self-initiated, by reading, searching the internet, through a class, via hands-on experiences, peer learning groups, or by viewing video clips or documentaries. Then, pursue the learning of interest, systematically digging deeply into the material.


Building zest involves increasing energy. While being mindful of what you can manage regarding your physical health, find ways to boost daily movement, exercise, or activities to engage. For example, get a baseline of the average number of daily steps and slowly work on incremental increases each week.


Do the “best possible self” exercise; take a moment to imagine a future in which you bring your best self forward and everything is happening as you wish. Visualize this in a way that is pleasing and realistic. Then, consider the character strengths needed to make that image a reality.


Practice several random acts of kindness all in one day. Then, consider how you might set a plan to mix up the variety of kind acts committed each week.


You can build curiosity by consciously paying attention to and tracking things in your daily environment that you have not noticed before or things about familiar people that have gone unnoticed. The key is encouraging being “actively curious,” asking lots of questions, and making new, mini discoveries. More formally, you may consider naming three novel features of any activity you are doing.


To boost creativity, practice divergent thinking; when facing a problem, brainstorm multiple alternatives rather than one solution.

Judgment, open-mindedness

Seeking and considering other viewpoints is the cornerstone of open-mindedness. When you are discussing with a person with an opposing view, take the approach of asking at least one clarifying question. Your strategy should involve “collecting information” rather than “evaluating information.”


Imagine having a conversation with a wise person about a problem; imagine the whole dialogue in terms of questions, responses, the nuances of the discussion, and any advice offered.


Reframing setbacks or failures as learning opportunities and ideas for growth can boost the strength of perseverance. In addition, setbacks can provide helpful information so you can overcome obstacles, be less inclined to “give up,” and persist toward your goal.


Do something you have avoided, such as cleaning out a closet, making a doctor’s appointment, or having a challenging conversation with your spouse or child.

Focus on the outcome of the courageous act; focusing on the beneficial effect of a brave act rather than on fears can increase the likelihood of acting bravely.


Carve out time each week to experience uninterrupted quality time in a close relationship with a partner, friend, or pet.

Lovingkindness meditation is an effective way to experience and boost the strength of love. This form of meditation provides a way to consciously tap into one’s inner resources of love through imagery and affirmative statements of one’s capacity for love and the power and beneficial effects on the world.


Before you make a decision that is typically very easy, take one full minute to think about it before you take action.

Practice conducting cost-benefit analyses of problems. For example, write out the costs and benefits of taking a particular action and the costs and benefits of not doing that action, resulting in four quadrants.


Consider how you and your closest friend or partner are a “team” who can work together and use one another’s strengths to solve problems. Approach your next challenge with this perspective.

Notice and express positive emotions (e.g., gratitude, joy, humor, hope) to other team members.

Take an open-minded and curious stance in understanding others’ points of view instead of just advocating for your point of view.

Social Intelligence

Cultivate social intelligence through mindfulness, explicitly increasing awareness of your thoughts and feelings and the feelings of others. After you become aware of an emotion, whether in self or other, label it, and if appropriate, express it to another, consider how this impacts the social context.


Exercise discipline. Self-monitoring is one pathway. Consider a behavior you wish to change (e.g., eating healthy, exercising more, managing finances better) and track it with honest detail (e.g., keeping a food diary or an exercise log). Then, continue to monitor the behavior closely while slowly making changes.

Modesty, humility

Look for humility and modesty exemplars among family, friends, philosophical lore, movies, or spiritual readings. Then create a “Hall of Humility” listing these findings and discuss how you might apply these learnings to daily life.


Imagining the experiences and appreciating the differences of others can boost the strength of fairness. Perspective-taking, cultural awareness and sensitivity training, and role-playing are ways to develop a more “other-focused” perspective, particularly when facing complex moral dilemmas.


In addition to competently using your strengths, leadership requires highly developed organizational skills, including planning and goal setting. Consider ideas and opportunities in which you can practice taking a leadership role in activities, groups, or organizations, even if the task seems minor or trivial.


Keep track of the humorous and funny things that happen each day; write down three funny things that occurred throughout the day to build awareness and increase the use of humor.

Spirituality, religiousness

Consider who might be “a wise, spiritual role model.” Take an approach of “observational spiritual learning.” Reflect on how this person has conducted their life in a way that is spiritually driven and meaning-filled.