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(p. 267) Building Your Strengths 

(p. 267) Building Your Strengths

Tayyab Rashid

and Martin Seligman

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date: 19 October 2019

Stressors and strengths are part of daily life, although stressors (such as relationship challenges, problems at work or not having a job, work-life balance, being sick, constant traffic, or taxes) may stand out more than strengths (such as curiosity, integrity, kindness, fairness, prudence, and gratitude). This appendix looks at everyday experiences and identifies things you can do to incorporate strengths into your life. It also provides examples of movies, TED Talks, and other online resources that illustrate these strengths. The “therapeutic actions” in this appendix are not a substitute for psychotherapy, should you need that; rather, the material in this resource is meant to raise your awareness that while everyday life includes inevitable hassles, stressors, and problems, it also offers us opportunities to become proficient in learning about and using our strengths toward solving our problems and increasing our well-being.

Organization of this Appendix

The aim of this appendix is to translate abstract concepts of character strengths into concrete actions and to connect these strengths with relevant multimedia illustrations with which you can easily identify. This appendix is based on the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). We are grateful to VIA Institute for generously allowing us the classification to devise strengths-based therapeutic resources.

According to Peterson and Seligman (2004), character strengths are ubiquitous traits that are valued in their own right and are not necessarily tied to concrete outcomes. Compared to symptoms, for the most part, character strengths do not diminish others; rather, they elevate those who witness the strength, producing admiration rather than jealousy. Clinically, character strengths manifest in many ways. Some are easy to spot and acknowledge in clinical settings (e.g., expressing gratitude or creativity), while other strengths are less visible (e.g., expressing humility or self-regulation; refraining from something that is not apparent). Like character strengths, virtues are also valued in every culture and are defined within cultural, religious, and philosophical contexts. In Peterson and Seligman’s classification, virtues are clusters of strengths; in other words, virtues are broad routes to a good life.

Table D1 presents 24 character strengths divided into six virtue clusters. Each of these character strengths is discussed in this appendix and includes:

Table D1 Core Virtues and Corresponding Character Strengths

Core Virtues

Wisdom & Knowledge






Character Strengths




Love of learning





Vitality & Zest



Social intelligence

Citizenship & Teamwork



Forgiveness & Mercy

Humility & Modesty



Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence


Hope & Optimism

Humor & Playfulness


  • A description of the strength presented

  • A discussion of the “golden mean,” for the strength

  • An explanation of which other character strengths integrate with the strength under discussion

  • Illustrations from movies—showing how characters embody the strength

  • Therapeutic actions—what you can do to enhance your strength

  • Exemplars—individuals who represent the strength, as presented in TED Talks

  • Books—to help you delve more deeply into the strength

  • Websites that expand the concept of the strength

(p. 268)

Table D2, located at the end of this appendix, presents an overview of the character strengths described throughout. This at-a-glance resource summarizes the 24 strengths by presenting their over- and underuse, a brief description of the balanced use of the strength (the golden mean), and how each strength potentially integrates with others.

Table D2 Balanced Use of Character Strengths


Overuse (too much)

Underuse (lack of, or too little)

Golden Mean

Integration (interaction with other strengths)

Wisdom & Knowledge

Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge


Oddity, weirdness, eccentricity

Dullness, banality, conformity

Adaptive, positive, and innovative ways of doing things

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and zest


Prying, snooping, nosiness

Boredom, disinterest, apathy

Exploration and openness that is neither boring nor intrusive

Persistence, open-mindedness, and courage


Cynicism, skepticism

Dogmatism, “unreflectiveness,” rigidity, overly simplistic

Unbiased critical inquiry toward adaptive change, if needed

Perspective, curiosity, and fairness

Love of learning


Complacency, smugness

Deepening knowledge to better understand self and society

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and persistence


Elitism, arcane, pedantic


Synthesis of knowledge to understand context

Social intelligence, integrity, and courage


Exercising the will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal


Risk-taking, foolishness

Debilitating fear, cowardice

Facing and responding to threats and fear without jeopardizing safety and well-being

Self-regulation, integrity, and persistence


Obsessiveness, fixation, pursuit of unattainable goals

Laziness, apathy

Finishing what is started and needs be finished

Courage, perspective, and zest



Shallowness, phoniness

Being real and true, without external pressures or rewards

Fairness, courage, and perspective

Vitality & Zest


Passivity, inhibition

Enthusiasm that is not obsession or too much inhibition

Self-regulation, hope, and courage


Emotional strengths that show the exercise of will in the face of opposition or internal threat


Emotional promiscuity

Isolation, detachment

Genuinely loving and caring for others without making extreme sacrifices

Kindness, Social intelligence, and hope



Indifference, cruelty, mean-spiritedness

Doing actions for others that are needed, are not asked for, and don’t carry tangible rewards

Social intelligence, citizenship & teamwork, and perspective

Social Intelligence

Psycho-babbling, self-deception

Obtuseness, cluelessness

Nuanced understanding of emotions, motives, and corresponding changes.

Kindness, love, and self-regulation


Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others

Citizenship & Teamwork

Mindless and automatic obedience

Selfishness, narcissism

Being inclusive and harmonious for the common good

Social intelligence, leadership, and hope


Impartiality without perspective or empathy, detachment

Prejudice, partisanship

Doing the right thing, without being influenced by personal and societal biases

Integrity, courage, and open-mindedness


Despotism, bossiness

Compliance, acquiescence

Aspiring and bringing others toward a positive common goal

Zest, teamwork, and social intelligence


Strengths that protect against excess

Forgiveness & Mercy


Mercilessness, vengefulness

Willingly ceasing cycle of revenge

Kindness, social intelligence, and integrity

Humility & Modesty


Foolish self-esteem, arrogance

Without compromising self-care, not seeking spotlight despite deserving it

Gratitude, integrity, and spirituality


Prudishness, stuffiness

Recklessness, sensation-seeking

Being cautious without being preoccupied or nonchalant about potential and realistic risks

Persistence, self-regulation, and curiosity


Inhibition, reticence

Self-indulgence, impulsivity

Regulating emotions and actions without feeling stifled or restrained

Perspective, persistence, and hope


Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

Snobbishness, pretentiousness

Oblivion, unconsciousness

Intrinsically appreciating beauty and excellence without snobbery

Gratitude, zest, and creativity



Entitlement, privilege

Deep and genuine sense of thankfulness without feeling obligated

Kindness, love, and social intelligence

Hope & Optimism

Panglossian outlook

Pessimism, despair

Being optimistic within realistic bounds

Open-mindedness, courage, and zest

Humor & Playfulness

Buffoon-like, clown-like

Cheerlessness, grimness

Expressing lighter and playful aspects of a situation with good intentions

Zest, social intelligence, and integrity


Fanaticism, radicalism

Anomie, isolation

Pursuing adaptive paths through meaningful actions

Gratitude, humility, and kindness

This appendix is written directly for you (the client), although clinicians can also use it after clients have completed their signature strengths assessment (see Session 2). The resources in this appendix can help clinicians reinforce skills learned in individual sessions, as this appendix applies a strengths-based approach to deal with everyday challenges as well as cultivating more positive emotions, engagement, and positive relationships, helping to create and sustain meaningful goals.

The Golden Mean

The “golden mean” is the Aristotelian concept that moral behavior is the mean (middle) between two extremes. In the context of strengths-based positive psychotherapy (PPT), the golden mean implies that a balanced use of strengths is both therapeutic and effective. For example, a balanced use of curiosity would be a mean between excessive use (prying or snooping) and absence (boredom, disinterest, or apathy).


Some character strengths share attributes with one another and often work well together. For example:

  • To overcome symptoms of depression, you need to understand that not every future event will be negative (hope) and you also need to find practical ways to keep working on them (persistence).

  • To deal with impulsive behavior, you need to find ways of regulating how you feel and what you do (self-regulation). In so doing, don’t become too hard on yourself for past impulse-control lapses, because you also need self-care (self-forgiveness and self-compassion).

  • To deal with relationship challenges, especially when told, “you don’t understand me,” try to become more aware of other people’s feelings and motives, and try different strategies to better grasp the subtleties of complex interpersonal situations (social intelligence). However, you may also benefit from the strengths of playfulness, teamwork, and authenticity to achieve the same ends or to connect with others deeply, especially loved ones.

(p. 269) Core Virtue: Wisdom & Knowledge

Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

1. Creativity


If this is one of your top strengths, you can use creativity to devise new ways of solving problems that compromise your well-being, such as finding a creative and positive way to respond to ongoing stressors or dealing with a difficult person. Most creative expressions that include art (painting, pottery, graphic design), writing (poetry, stories, essays), and performance (singing, acting, playing an instrument) carry tremendous therapeutic potential. These expressions use attentional, cognitive, and emotional resources that might otherwise be spent brooding, wallowing, or blaming.

The Golden Mean

You are not content with doing most things as usual or blindly confirming to norms. Yet, your creative endeavors are not considered to be odd or weird, even by your closest friends. You also don’t want to be merely content; rather, you want to be innovative. From a therapeutic standpoint, a balanced use of creativity entails trying new solutions to old problems that cause ongoing stress. Before you try these solutions, however, consider their impact on others. (For example, you can use your creativity to redesign your office—if it is your individual office—or on a project for which only you are responsible. However, redesigning a common space or infusing new and creative ideas into a group project—without involving others—is not a balanced expression of creativity.) When working with others, you will be best served by your own creativity when leading or facilitating a brainstorming session that is inclusive and open to new ideas.

  • Overuse of strength: oddity, weirdness, eccentricity

  • Underuse of strength: dullness, banality, conformity


You can use the strengths of curiosity, persistence, zest, and bravery to refine your creativity. Also, as noted above, if your creative expression impacts others, use the strengths of social intelligence, teamwork, and open-mindedness to include those others in finding co-creative solutions to problems that impact well-being.

Sadness and suffering are often cited as generators of creativity. However, there may be many paths and processes leading to creative expression. Consider when children are playing. They are happy (positive emotions) and often create role plays and imaginary characters and create new scenarios from existing settings. Strengths such as gratitude, appreciation of beauty, playfulness and humor—with relatively more explicit expressions of positive emotions—can facilitate creativity. Creative expression—from conception to fruition—needs support from persistence and self-regulation. Persistence is important to finish what is started, and self-regulation is needed to stay focused or to re-establish focus, if distracted.


  • Pianist (2002)Wladyslaw Szpilman’s character is inspiring in this World War II movie. Despite the incredible cruelty of the Nazis, Szpilman relies on his creativity to survive.

  • (p. 270) Gravity (2013)This film presents an excellent illustration of creative problem solving as two astronauts work together to survive after an accident that leaves them stranded in space.

  • Julie & Julia (2009)Based on the celebrity chef Julia Child, the movie shows many facets of creativity both by Julia Child and another woman, Julie Powell.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Create new solutions for old problems: Compile an original and practical list of solutions or tips that will address old, ongoing problems faced by you and your peers. Share this list with your friends through social media (or any other way you find appropriate) to elicit feedback.

  • Tackle boring tasks: Make a list of tasks that you find boring yet have to do. Look for different and creative ways to accomplish these tasks. Find ways to incorporate them into your work or chores to make these times more enjoyable.

  • Offer creative solutions: Offer at least one creative solution to the challenges of a sibling or friend. Share your relevant experiences, successes, and setbacks from when you tried something similar yourself. Practice being open to their creative ideas as well as to your own.

  • Use leftovers (food, paper, etc.) to make new products: Consider the artistic or practical uses for items before you throw them away.

  • Collect and organize: Collect and organize assorted materials (e.g., websites, online videos, sketchbooks, crayons, pastels, or flipcharts) that readily enable you to translate new ideas into concrete form.

  • Improve your attention: If you experience attentional challengessuch as overlooking important details, getting distracted easily, being unable to keep in mind multiple pieces of information at the same timepursuing a creative endeavor that engages you, can help you improve your attention.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of creativity:

  • William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed the wind

  • Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion and creativity

  • Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity

  • Kary Mullis: Play! Experiment! Discover!

  • Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with lions


Carlson, S. (2010). Your Creative Brain: Seven steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. San Francisco: Wiley.Find this resource:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

Edwards, B. (2013). Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence. London: Souvenir Press.Find this resource:

Drapeau, P. (2014). Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.Find this resource:


2. Curiosity


Curiosity involves actively recognizing and pursuing challenging opportunities and seeking out new knowledge. In the therapeutic context, you can use curiosity to be open to experiences you may have been avoiding because these experiences make you feel afraid or anxious, such as riding in a crowded underground train, asking a question at an information desk, or talking to a stranger at a social gathering. Or maybe there are objects that make you uncomfortable, such as needles, germs in public washrooms, or specific foods. Curiosity has tremendous therapeutic potential especially if you have assumed that your fears cannot be changed. Instead of being fixated on these experiences, curiosity will enable you to be flexible. Its components, including being open and embracing uncertainty, the unknown, and the new, will help you understand the nuances and subtleties of your fears, which can facilitate both healing and growth.

The Golden Mean

We habituate to (i.e., get used to) almost all positive experiences and products. A balanced approach to curiosity helps to ward off boredom, apathy, and disinterest. Curiosity helps you seek out new or fresh aspects of an experience, process, or product, especially aspects you have not grasped fully. Also, without becoming anxiously preoccupied, curiosity can change the mundane aspects of your daily routine into engaged, interested, and motivated living. Balanced application of curiosity toward self-understanding is critical for growth. Instead of overanalyzing, being self-absorbed, or self-securitizing excessively, be sufficiently curious to challenge the limits of your knowledgeabout yourself and about the world around you.

  • Overuse of strength: prying, snooping, nosiness

  • Underuse of strength: boredom, disinterest, apathy


Curiosity is closely tied with other strengths and attributes, such as creativity, persistence, and open-mindedness. Whenever you find yourself entangled in complex situation, use your (p. 272) curiosity, in concert with other strengths, to extract a balanced, yet optimal, use of your curiosity. At times, your curiosity needs courage to find its adaptive expression, especially when you feel ambivalent (part angry, part sad) and cannot identify a specific cause. It might be that your ambivalence is related to avoiding fears, confronting a person in authority who mistreated you, or emotionally numbing yourself from a traumatic experience. The curiosity to explore the root causes of your distress is a critical first step, before you can look for ways to manage this distress.


  • October Sky (1999)The curiosity of Homer Hickam, inspired by the launch of Sputnik, motivates him and his friends to build their own rockets, and eventually they get a spot in the National Science Awards competition.

  • 10 Items or Less (2006)A “has-been” actor, in pursuit of a new role, goes to a grocery store in a small industrial town to observe a worker, displaying a high level of curiosity while interacting with a wide range of people.

  • Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)An archaeological adventure—covering a booby-trapped temple in Peru to the search for ancient artefacts—shows numerous aspects of curiosity.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Confront your fears: Make a list of experiences or things that make you afraid, uncomfortable, or anxious. Make sure you list things that you fear and also avoid, either by not doing them (e.g., avoiding certain places, foods, or people) or by doing something else (e.g., taking a detour, eating substitute foods, or not interacting with people). Expand your knowledge about ways to deal with your fear by reading expert opinions, watching recommended videos, and speaking with someone who could help you with useful tips.

  • Deal with boredom through cultural explorations: If you experience boredom and are tired of routine, try something new. For example, eat food from a different culture or engage in a cultural experience that carries an element of novelty for you. Explore the cultural context of the experience from someone familiar with the culture. Share your impressions with a friend or friends in person or through social media.

  • Cope with the anxiety of uncertainty: We want to understand, manage, and predict events in our lives. However, it is almost impossible to do so, which often causes anxiety. Instead of coping with this anxiety through unhealthy means (e.g., by “filling in the blanks” with inaccurate information acquired impulsively), use curiosity to embrace uncertainty and be open to new information. This process will help you learn to tolerate uncertainty so that you will better be able to cope with anxiety. Rather than searching for certainty, be curious about the process that leads to certainty.

  • Overcome biases by diversifying social connections: We often socialize with people who are like us. This helps us identify with them and hurts us by limiting our social exposure. Such limited exposure maintains or reinforces our biases toward people and cultures different from us. Arrange a face-to-face conversation or a coffee date with a person from a different culture, and spend an hour, at least once a month, learning about the person and his or her culture. Be inquisitive, nonjudgmental, and open about your own culture.

  • Develop curiosity about nature: Nature holds tremendous therapeutic potential. Reallocate an hour that you would spend worrying, doubting, and stressing over your unsolved problems, to exploring nature. For at least one hour a week, explore the processes of nature, by being in the woods, or a park, or by a stream, in the yard, and so on. Write, draw, or paint in order to record your impressions and feelings.

(p. 273) Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of curiosity:

  • Kary Mullis: Play! Experiment! Discover!

  • Brian Cox: Why we need the explorers

  • Taylor Wilson: Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor

  • Jack Andraka: A promising test for pancreatic cancer . . . from a teenager


Goldin, I., & Kutarna, C. (2016). Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. Bloomsbury, UK: St Martin’s Press.Find this resource:

Gruwell, E. (1999). The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World around Them. New York: Doubleday.Find this resource:

Grazer, B., & Fishman, C. (2015). A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. Toronto: Simon & Schuster.Find this resource:

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious. New York: William Morrow.Find this resource:

Leslie, I. (2014). Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. New York: Basic Books.Find this resource:


3. Open-Mindedness


Open-mindedness is our ability to think things through and examine them from all sides. In the therapeutic context, open-mindedness entails a willingness to consider evidence against our own beliefs about ourselves. Psychotherapy is an interpersonal endeavor to evaluate one’s beliefs, especially those that maintain symptoms and stress. Using the strength of open-mindedness, especially to grasp a complex personal situation, will encourage you to look at different perspectives not yet considered to solve problems. Open-mindedness will encourage you to maintain the “reality orientation,” that is, being unbiased and perceiving problems objectively. You will therefore be better able to counteract the pervasive “my-side bias” that prevents many people from considering views other than their own.

The Golden Mean

For the most part, open-mindedness entails critical inquiry, sifting the quality of information carefully. In solving your everyday problems or tackling big challenges, a lack of open-mindedness (p. 274) prevents you from reflecting, and you likely perceive your problems in black and white. You likely are seen as being rigid, your stance would likely be called stubborn, and this stubbornness can exacerbate symptomatic distress. If you experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, and also face adversity, a setback, or a failure, you are more likely to attribute the challenge to your own shortcomings. You are likely to assume that the challenge will last forever and that it will adversely impact all aspects of your life.

Similarly, an overuse of this strength will make you overanalytical, cynical, and skeptical, and you won’t be able to trust people or processes. A balanced use of open-mindedness requires that you exercise critical inquiry but do not discount emotional aspects of the situation that may not be fully explained by facts alone. (For example, after a break up, which you rationally justify is good for you, you may continue to feel sad and bad. It is important to mourn the loss, without being swept away by it.)

  • Overuse of strength: cynicism, skepticism

  • Underuse of strength: dogmatism, “unreflectiveness”, rigidity, overly simplistic


Open-mindedness works synergistically with a number of strengths. For example, being open-minded and organically engaged in critical thinking allows you to be open to alternative explanations and innovative solutionshallmarks of creativity and curiosity. Open-mindedness also entails being open to multiple perspectives and tapping into wisdom. Furthermore, the critical appraisal associated with open-mindedness reinforces fairness and integrity.


  • The Help (2011)Eugenia Skeeter, an open-minded white female writer, strives to tell the stories and perspectives of black maids in a clearly stratified and highly racist society.

  • The Matrix (1999)Neo, the protagonist, displays open-mindedness by questioning the meaning of reality.

  • The Social Network (2010)This movie tells how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. A scene depicting the first meeting of a difficult college course shows the lack of open-mindedness of the professor, while the movie shows how Zuckerberg, despite experiencing social deficits, exercises his flexible and critical thinking strengths.

  • Apocalypse Now (1979)In an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, famed film director Francis Ford Coppola depicts a critical inquiry into primal madness, brought on by the Vietnam War.

  • Water (2005)This film displays the lives of three widows showing extraordinary judgment to remain open to new experiences confronting injustice and negative societal traditions.

Therapeutic actions

  • Reflect on and rewrite your challenges: Monitor and record at least three unhealthy thoughts and beliefs that make you sad, anxious, or ambivalent. (For example, “My wife constantly leaves a mess everywhere and this really annoys me! I never say anything, but I feel like she doesn’t respect me. Why does this always happen to me?”) Reflect on and write about an alternative way of explaining these problems to yourself, one that includes some of the attributes of open-mindedness.

  • Reflect on and write about decisions that backfired: Reflect on and write about three recent decisions you made that backfired or did not produce the desired and adaptive outcome. Share your reflections with a trusted and wise friend. Ask your friend to critically appraise your judgment. Commit to yourself that you will listen to this appraisal without getting angry or defensive.

  • (p. 275) Play devil’s advocate: Reflect on and select an issue about which you have strong opinions. Deliberately think through an argument for the other side. Dispassionately review credible sources that may support you to hold this opposing view. This exercise may open your mind to a new perspective you may not have considered before.

  • Mentor someone from a different ethnic or religious background: Reflect on what skills or expertise you can teach someone from a disadvantaged or marginalized group. Approach this task with the expectation that you want to, and can, learn as much from the mentee as she or he can learn from you.

  • Reappraise causes of your failure: Identify causes of three recent failures, set-backs, less than optimal results, or disappointments. Review the attributes of open-mindedness, and then appraise the situations again. Find patterns, if any, such as why you always feel bad or anxious or powerless when talking to this person, or if there is a specific cause that you typically endorse. (For example, “I always miss something important before this meeting.”)

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of open-mindedness:

  • Alia Crum: Change Your mindset, Change the game, TEDxTraverseCity

  • Adam Savage: How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

  • Adam Grant: The surprising habits of original thinkers

  • Vernā Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

  • Dalia Mogahed: What do you think when you look at me?


Costa, A. (1985). Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Find this resource:

Hare, W. (1985). In Defence of Open-Mindedness. Kingston, UK: McGill-Queen’s University Press.Find this resource:

Markova, D. (1996). The Open Mind: Exploring the 6 Patterns of Natural Intelligence. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press.Find this resource:


4. Love of Learning


Love of learning involves enthusiastically studying new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge. If this is one of your top strengths, you most likely enjoy learning, and, over time, you build (p. 276) a reservoir of knowledge of specific topics and domains. You don’t need external prompts to “study;” rather, you are internally motivated to enhance and accumulate diverse dimensions of data and information to constantly strengthen your knowledge base on specific topics—from computers to culinary arts, from movies to museums, or from Lagos to literature. You create or are drawn to hubs of learning—be it a school, a book club, a discussion group, a lecture, a workshop, or even taking a course. Obstacles, challenges, and setbacks do not dampen your desire for learning.

The Golden Mean

Resisting learning and acquiring new knowledge and understanding most likely impedes one’s growth and is often one of the signs of underlying depression. Going deeper into learning most likely brings about numerous benefits. However, knowledge is a concrete resource, and knowledge of statistics, facts, figures, historical events, scientific findings, and concrete evidence, can instill an air of over confidence and, in some cases, arrogance, which can easily create a division between those who know (or the know-it-all) and those who don’t know, or don’t know enough. Therefore, it is important that in a data-, information-, and knowledge-rich world, you not create or climb on a hierarchy of knowledge and learning and end up treating others (those without your quantity of knowledge) any less. More importantly, don’t discount emotions. Having access to your worries, fears, and doubts is critical, as these emotions provide the context for your rationality and knowledge so that you can comprehend the wholeness of a situation to optimally solve your problems.

  • Overuse of strength: “know it all”-ism

  • Underuse of strength: complacency, smugness


Love of learning goes hand in hand with other strengths within the virtue of Knowledge & Wisdom. For example, love of learning accompanies curiosity and persistence. Without persistence, it is difficult to acquire a deeper understanding of any subject. Likewise, love of learning synergistically enhances critical thinking and widens perspective.


  • Theory of Everything (2014)An extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking displays love of learning despite extraordinary challenges.

  • Akeelah and the Bee (2006)The passion of an American adolescent to learn unfolds as she reluctantly participates and eventually wins the National Spelling Bee competition.

  • A Beautiful Mind (2001)This is the story of Noble Laurate John Nash and his passion for self-discovery and knowledge despite severe mental health challenges.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Reallocate time to learn about adaptive coping: We often spend a lot of time thinking and brooding about our problems, and less time thinking about how to cope with them adaptively. Monitor yourself to estimate how much time you spend thinking about your problems. Reallocate that time to learn about how others have successfully coped with similar issues.

  • Share your learning: Identify topics that you can share with your peers. Share information in a humble, conversational manner. Reflect afterwards. Most likely you will feel satisfied, and this will likely increase your self-efficacy.

  • (p. 277) Follow an ongoing situation: Follow an ongoing local or global event about which you can personally identify or feel affinity for. Make a list of things you don’t know about the event, and find credible sources to enhance your learning.

  • Learn through leisure: Travel to new places and blend education with leisure. While you are there, take a tour, take a cooking class, or visit a local museum to learn more about the local culture and history.

  • Co-learn: Learn with a friend with whom you share one or more areas of intellectual interest. Discuss specific areas that you each will study separately. Share your findings over a cup of coffee or tea, preferably in a café. You can also co-learn with a loved one, including your partner, parents, children, or extended family members. This will strengthen your relationships, and you will spend time together in a positive, rather than a potentially negative, way.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of love of learning:

  • Salman Khan: Let us Use Video to Reinvent Education

  • Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

  • Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning


Yousafzai, M., & Lamb, C. (2013). I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. London: Hachette.Find this resource:

Watson, J. C., & Watson, J. C. (2011). Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Reasoning Well. London: Continuum.Find this resource:

Markova, D. (1996). The Open Mind: Exploring the 6 Patterns of Natural Intelligence. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press.Find this resource:


5. Perspective


Perspective, which is often called wisdom, is distinct from intelligence and involves a superior level of knowledge and judgment. This strength allows you to provide wise counsel to others. A number of our psychological problems are characterized by assumptions. For example, we think that we can do many things, especially when it comes to things that require interacting with others. When others fall short of our expectations and don’t (or are unable to) do what we desire, we become disappointed and, in some cases, depressed. (For example, “I was hoping that my family would understand why I am making this difficult decision. . . .”) From a therapeutic standpoint, perspective helps you to evaluate what you can do, what you cannot do, what you can realistically expect, and what may not be realistic.

(p. 278) We experience ambivalence when we are unable to discern conflicting information or unable to balance competing positives (e.g., “Should I work more to earn more money so that we can go on vacation, or should I use this time to play a board game with my loved ones, so that we can do something together now?”). The strength of perspective will help you weigh an option for the greater goodbe it related to self-care or caring for others. Perspective also allows you to address important and difficult questions about morality and the meaning of life. People with perspective are aware of broad patterns of meaning in their lives, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the necessity of contributing to their society.

The Golden Mean

Perspective, by definition, is the golden mean. That is, if it is one of your top strengths, you know how to strike a balance between your work and personal life. You are good at setting realistic expectations. You are good at separating positives from negatives and weighing them appropriately. With this strength, you can weigh personal factors (e.g., “I always make a fool of myself”) versus situational factors (e.g., “Yesterday, my presentation did not go well because my colleague did not provide the critical data that I needed.) A balanced use of perspective entails having the ability to see both the forest from the trees and the trees in the forest. It is also about tolerating some short-term pain (e.g., confronting an anxious situation) for long-term gains (e.g., getting rid of your anxiety). However, be mindful that not all aspects of your life need perspective. Appraising and dealing with every mundane situation from the lens of perspective can make your decisions arcane or pedantic.

  • Overuse of strength: elitism, arcane, pedantic

  • Underuse of strength: superficiality


In some ways, perspective encompasses the strengths discussed previously. That is, perspective encompasses learning, curiosity, creativity, and understanding what proportion of your specific strengths best work together toward your satisfaction and well-being (e.g., a proportionate use of kindness and fairness).


  • Hugo (2011)—Hugo, a 12-year-old boy living in the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris, offers perspective on experiences with what really matters in life. The movie is also a brilliant illustration of resilience and social intelligence.

  • Peaceful Warrior (2006)Socrates, played by Nick Nolte, teaches Dan, an ambitious teenager, the strength of perspective, humility, and focus through actions and applied scenarios.

  • American Beauty (1999)Lester Burnham, a middle-aged businessman trapped in his own misery, undergoes a rapid transformation to realize what is truly important in his life.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Set goals for things that frustrate you: Set five small goals That address your day-to-day stressors (such as feeling irritable at your partner for not bringing the dishes back into the kitchen from the dinner table, or feeling frustrated at forgetting passwords to important (p. 279) websites). Break down the goals into practical steps, accomplish them on time, and monitor your progress from week to week.

  • Choose a role model for problem-solving: Select a role model who exemplifies perseverance, and determine how you can follow in her or his footsteps. Try to select a person who has dealt with challenges similar to yours, with whom you can identify. If this person is living and someone you know, speak with him or her about this strength.

  • Broaden your outlook and monitor temporary stressors: Explain the broad outlook of your life in one or two sentences as a weekly exercise. Monitor whether temporary stressors have an impact on your overall perspective. If you do see this pattern, brainstorm ways that your perspective can remain constant through daily joys and struggles.

  • Volunteer the time you would otherwise spend analyzing your problems: Pursue endeavors that have a significant impact on the world. Reallocate your time and resources to pursue this endeavor. This reallocation will positively distract your mind from thinking about your problems, some of which need fresh perspective. If you are unable to solve a problem right away, positive distraction allows you to reconsider from a fresh perspective.

  • Connect beliefs with emotions: Connect your beliefs with your emotions by reading books or watching films of personal experiences on issues that matter to you personally. Put a human face on the issue and recall that when you feel your opinion on the issue is getting too heated.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of perspective:

  • Barry Schwartz: Using our practical wisdom

  • Joshua Prager: Wisdom from great writers on every year of life

  • Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything


Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.Find this resource:

Hall, Stephen, (2010). Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. New York: Random House.Find this resource:

Sternberg, R. J., ed. (1990). Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Vaillant, G. E. (2003). Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Study of Adult Development. New York: Little Brown.Find this resource:


  • This website details the work of Thomas D. Gilovich, who studies beliefs, judgment and decision-making. He studies how these factors affect, and are affected by, emotions, behavior and perception:

  • Barry Schwarz studies practical wisdom and the paradox of choice. He discusses the disadvantages of having infinite choices, which he argues exhausts the society and the human psyche:

(p. 280) Core Virtue: Courage

Exercising the will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

6. Bravery


Bravery (courage) is the capacity to take action to aid others in spite of significant risks or dangers. When you are psychologically distressed and also face challenges, threats, or adversities—real or perceived—this can become a “double whammy,” and the impact can therefore be two-fold. Sometimes our challenges, threats, and adversities themselves are overwhelming enough to cause psychological problems. If bravery is one of your top strengths, it can help you take action to deal with the challenge in an adaptive way. Bravery does not let you avoid or shrink from challenges, and you usually exercise this strength well aware of the risks involved. If bravery is one of your signature strengths, you place a high value on it. That is, when you feel stressed, sad, frightened, angry, or overwhelmed, the strength of bravery will most likely motivate you to take an action. Brave individuals avoid shrinking from the threats, challenges, or pain associated with attempting to do good works. Brave acts are undertaken voluntarily, with full knowledge of the potential adversity involved. Brave individuals place the highest importance on higher purpose and morality, no matter what the consequences.

The Golden Mean

To deal with your problems with the help of bravery, it is important that you not feel coerced or entirely extrinsically motivated. Courageous actions—physical or emotional—ought to be based on your own values. (For example, if you confront a family member who is being emotionally or physically abusive to another family member, or if you take a stand in support of a vulnerable or oppressed person, such action will be authentic if it is guided by your deeply held personal values that this action is the right thing to do.) A balanced use of courage requires the existence of a real threat or risk that can be averted by your courageous action. A balanced use of bravery also entails that you be aware of the consequences of your action or inaction. (For example, you will want to ensure that your use of bravery is not taking undue risk that comes with the cost of comprising your and other’s safety.) Note that not using courage can often result in feelings of helplessness. Thus, overuse of bravery (e.g., disclosure, reputation, collective reprisals) and underuse of bravery (e.g., hopelessness, passivity, demotivation) can create problems both for yourself and others.

  • Overuse of strength: risk-taking, foolishness

  • Underuse of strength: debilitating fear, cowardice


Bravery can potentially interact with numerous other strengths. For example, bravery can entail using (i.e., committing) strengths such as fairness, authenticity, or perspective, or not using (i.e., omitting) strengths such as perspective, prudence, self-regulation, or forgiveness. Bravery also works well with strengths like zest, social and personal intelligence, persistence, and self-regulation. (p. 281) Examples include wanting to face your fear in spite of accessing uncomfortable emotions and memories, appraising with an open mind (judgment), taking action to halt the cycle of negativity or resisting impulses (self-regulation), and committing to adhere to your goal (persistence).


  • Milk (2008)This movie depicts Harvey Milks’ courage to become the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

  • The Kite Runner (2007)A moving tale of two friends, Amir and Hassan, whose friendship flourishes in pre-Soviet-invasion Kabul, in the mid to late 1970s. The film shows how Amir musters the courage to rescue Hassan’s son from war-ravaged and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

  • Schindler’s List (1993)Oskar Schindler is a German businessman whose bravery saves over a thousand Jews during World War II.

  • The Help (2011)Eugenia, also known as “Skeeter,” is a courageous white female writer who strives to tell the stories and perspectives of black maids in a clearly stratified and highly racist society.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Resolve interpersonal distress with brave “one-to-ones”: Write about three interpersonal situations that cause you ongoing distress, such as fear or inhibition, especially with people in a position of authority and with whom you interact regularly. Reflect on how a balanced use of bravery can decrease your distress. (For example, “I want to speak with my professor, alone after class, to bravely express myself.”)

  • Embrace darker and negative experiences with bravery: Make a list of emotions from which you often run. Turn these into statements such as, “I will make a complete fool of myself;. I am so afraid of being rejected or being alone; I cannot do anything to stop him acting this way, so I just leave the situation altogether” and evaluate the cost of not facing such emotions. Then, using bravery, visualize embracing the full range of your emotions, such as what might be the worst and the best scenarios if you were to stay and do something. Bravery can help you embrace the full range of your emotions, especially in distressful situations.

  • Speak the truth that will set you free: Use bravery to share a truth about yourself with your closest relations. This is a truth that is important enough that it impacts your relationships in a negative way, is an important aspect of your life, and one you are not sharing because of fear of rejection. (For example, “I am really afraid to tell my parents that I am a lesbian. It is such an important part of me, but how will they take it? But if I don’t tell them, then I am not being my authentic self with my family.”)

  • Ask difficult questions or question the status quo: In group situations, such as at work, with your family, or among friends, use bravery to ask difficult questions or to question the status quo. Examples include questioning why do specific policies or rituals systematically keep specific people or groups on the fringes, not allowing them to assume leadership roles. Propose bold yet realistic solutions.

  • Stand up for someone or for a cause: Stand up for someone who is unable to stand up for him- or herself, such as a younger sibling, a battered woman, a vulnerable immigrant, or a worker who is unaware of his rights. You can join an organization that courageously stands for those who need the support most.

(p. 282) Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of bravery:

  • Ash Beckham: We’re all hiding something. Let’s find the courage to open up

  • Clint Smith: The danger of silence

  • Eman Mohammed: The courage to tell a hidden story


Diener, R. (2012). The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Find this resource:

Pury, C. (2010). The Psychology of Courage: Modern Research on an Ancient Virtue. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Find this resource:

Pausch, R., & Zaslow, J. (2008). The Last Lecture. New York: Hyperion.Find this resource:


7. Persistence


Persistence is the mental strength necessary to continue striving for our goals in the face of obstacles and setbacks. From the therapeutic perspective, a number of psychological problems adversely impact attention and the ability to concentrate. Persistence (perseverance) is the strength that can help you deal with attentional problems because it enables you to remain goal-directed despite challenges, especially those due to distraction. With this strength, even if you are distracted, persistence brings you back to complete the task. You do your best to finish what you start and find ways to overcome hiccups and hardships. If you become bored and lackadaisical—another common feature of many psychological concerns—finding a task in which you can persist is an organic and therapeutic way to feel self-efficacious, uplifted, and satisfied when you finish the task.

The Golden Mean

The key to a balanced use of persistence is knowing when and where to persist and when to stop and cut your losses. To determine whether to persist or not, ask yourself what might happen if you do not finish this specific task. Equally important is your ability to adapt to changing situations. For example, in pursuing a desired career, you need to adapt to inevitable changes in market conditions, in technology, and in the larger socioeconomic framework. Finally, to optimally use this strength, you need to constantly be aware of your goal. (For example, to persist in successfully obtaining a social media certification that involves taking multiple courses in the evenings and on the weekends, you need to evaluate your goals and “keep your eyes on the prize.”)

(p. 283)

  • Overuse of strength: obsessiveness, fixation, pursuit of unattainable goals

  • Underuse of strength: laziness, apathy


To evaluate when persistence is adaptive versus when it enters the realm of obsessive and compulsive preoccupation, you need other strengths, such as perspective, social intelligence, judgment (open-mindedness), and prudence. To persist, especially if you experience setbacks, challenges, or obstacles, you need a good dose of hope and optimism. Without hope and optimism, motivation to persist will be sapped. However, you need to keep your hopes and optimism in the realm of what is realistic.


  • Life of Pi (2010)This movie presents the epic journey of a young man who perseveres and survives on the open sea to strike an unlikely connection with a ferocious Bengali Tiger.

  • 127 Hours (2010)—In a remarkable display of persistence and courage, Ralston, a mountain climber, becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah.

  • The King’s Speech (2010)England’s King George VI perseveres to overcome a speech impediment.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Tackle tasks that overwhelm you: List five big tasks that you have to do, but that often overwhelm you, such as doing your taxes, responding to non-stop email, or preparing a holiday dinner for your partner’s large family. Break these tasks into smaller steps, and congratulate yourself or celebrate—in small ways—when you finish each step. Monitor your progress step by step.

  • Find a role model who persisted despite challenges: Select a role model who exemplifies perseverance and determine how you can follow in this person’s footsteps. Try to find someone who has experienced mental health challenges similar to yours. Ideally meet this person face-to-face, or connect with him or her through other ways, to explore how he or she overcame challenges and perseverance.

  • Persist while acquiring new skills: Your persistence may come to a halt simply because you do not have the next skill level to move forward. (For example, after designing a product, don’t hesitate to ask for help in either learning new skills or having someone work with you, so that you can finish the project and produce it.)

  • Incorporate elements of “flow”: If you struggle to persist, explore flow, an intrinsically motivated state of deep immersion. Explore activities that induce flow; you will persist, and, in the process, you will grow.

  • Work with others: A potentially therapeutic use of persistence is working with other like-minded individuals. The company of others can increase your skills and your motivation to persist.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of persistence:

  • Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, failure and the drive to keep creating

  • Richard St. John: 8 secrets of success


Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Simon & Schuster.Find this resource:

Luthans, F., Youssef, C., & Avolio, B. (2007). Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Tough, P. (2012). How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Find this resource:


8. Integrity


The strength of integrity (authenticity) is manifested by speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way. From a therapeutic standpoint, a number of psychological conditions entail ambivalence, inhibition, fear, embarrassment, and rejection, which keep us from sharing our emotions, thoughts, and, more importantly, needs, in an authentic manner. Integrity helps you to be open and honest about your thoughts and emotions. If integrity and authenticity are your top strengths, you easily take ownership of your actions, which enables you to behave in accordance with your values. In other words, there is little dissonance and alienation, which, in turn, improves your reality testing and social reasoning. An individual high on integrity is less likely to experience cognitive distortions and social fears. She is better able to understand and handle the context of complex dilemmas often posed by psychopathology.

A person of integrity is open and honest about his own thoughts, feelings, and responsibilities, being careful not to mislead others through action or omission. This strength allows you to feel a sense of ownership over your own internal states, regardless of whether those states are popular or socially comfortable, and to experience a sense of authentic wholeness.

The Golden Mean

Living in accordance with your values and taking ownership of your emotions and thoughts in an interpersonally complex world are not easy tasks, given the impact of cultural, religious, political, economic, ecological, and even technological (especially social media) influences. Therefore, a balanced use of integrity depends on the context. (For example, not every situation is amenable to authentic expressions like, “I am not as good as others;” “Often I feel worthless,” “I am too embarrassed to ask for help; others will see me as weak.” Also, sharing whatever you are thinking on Facebook or Twitter may not be the optimal way to represent yourself authentically.) To live an authentic and honest life, courage to withstand external pressures is indeed necessary. An authentic life also entails being credible, being real, and speaking the truth. Note that authenticity and fairness are not applicable in absolute terms; cultures differ vastly in terms of authentic representation of the self. Therefore, a balanced use of authenticity, honesty, and integrity can better be appraised within the cultural context. However, whatever the cultural framework might be, underuse of authenticity could lead to not expressing your emotions, interests, and needs. This (p. 285) in turn could limit your self-efficacy—if you cannot own your needs, how can you meet them? Furthermore, underuse of this strength forces you to adopt different roles in different situations, causing a fragmented personality that is more controlled or influenced by external forces than by yourself.

  • Overuse of strength: righteousness

  • Underuse of strength: shallowness, phoniness


Integrity works well when you are also attuned to your needs and motivations. Zest and vitality nicely complement integrity, and perspective and social intelligence are two key strengths that can help you understand context. In addition, emotional intelligence (as a sub-domain of social intelligence) provides you cues to feel, own, and express your internal states in a way that feels appropriate and authentic to you. Kindness and love are two other attributes that go hand in hand with integrity. Genuine love marked by caring and sharing encourages authenticity and vice-versa.


  • Separation (2011, Iran)During the dissolution of a marriage, this film presents an inspiring display of integrity and honesty by a person who is accused of lying.

  • Erin Brockovich (2000)The lead character’s deep sense of integrity to bring the truth to light eventually results in one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in U.S. history.

  • The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)Rannulph Junnah, once the best golfer in Savannah, Georgia, overcomes alcoholism to reconstruct both his golf game and his life through the strengths of authenticity and integrity.

  • Dead Poet Society (1989)English teacher John Keating, teaches boys about the joys of poetry, but in essence, they learn and eventually show the strengths of honesty and integrity.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Evaluate inhibitions, judgments, and rejectionlack of authenticity: Reflect on and write about five situations that stressed you. Evaluate each situation as to whether it was partly due to inhibition, fear of judgment, or rejection, especially those caused by social norms and expectations. With a close friend or family member, discuss ways of finding how you can express yourself authentically.

  • Look for situations that facilitate your authenticity: Reflect on and write about situations that naturally allow you to be yourself. Pay close attention to both internal and external factors that facilitate your authenticity. Discuss with a confidant how you can create more such situations.

  • Foster authentic interaction: A number of our psychological stressors spring from our inability to authentically relate to others with integrity. Review models of feedback that are both authentic and constructive, and that build—not block—the relationship.

  • Seek authentic roles: Seek roles with clear structure that allow you to be authentic and honest, especially if you feel inhibited at work. Pursue positions in organizations that foster honest, forthright communication.

  • Clarify moral convictions: Identify your area of strongest moral conviction. (For example, doing your job optimally and giving it your best.) How can you bring these convictions into other areas of your life where you tend to struggle? (For example, obeying traffic rules, always opting for environmentally friendly options, standing up for some being mistreated.) Set small, measurable goals to improve your behavior that lead to greater integrity.

(p. 286) Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of integrity:

  • Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

  • Malcolm McLaren: Authentic creativity vs. karaoke culture

  • Heather Brooke: My battle to expose government corruption


Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.Find this resource:

Cloud, H. (2006). Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. New York: Harper.Find this resource:

Simons, T. (2008). The Integrity Dividend Leading by the Power of Your Word. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Find this resource:


9. Vitality & Zest


Vitality is an approach to life marked by an appreciation of energy, liveliness, excitement, and zest. From a psychological perspective, a lack of vitality breeds depression, passivity, and boredom. Vitality includes positive emotions such as joy, exuberance, and excitement, as well as contentment, satisfaction, and gratification. If vitality and zest are among your top strengths, you approach life whole-heartedly. You have both emotional and physical vigor when pursuing everyday activities. You often feel inspired and turn this feeling into creative projects and initiatives. You give your best to your projects, and this engagement often encourages others. A life of vigor allows you to experience the overlap of the mental and physical realms of experience as stress decreases and health increases.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of vitality is critical, but it is not easy to distinguish between balance and overuse. Both of these states can easily be viewed as passion. However, when vitality is overused, it can become a passion that is internalized so deeply that it becomes part of your identity. On the other hand, not using vitality would leave you passive and unmotivated. For a balanced use, it is important that zest and vitality become part of your personality, but only a part, among many other parts. A balanced use of vitality means that you pursue many activities with enthusiasm, but you do not neglect your other responsibilities.

(p. 287)

  • Overuse of strength: hyperactivity

  • Underuse of strength: passivity, inhibition


Vitality is a strength that works best with strengths from other virtues such as prudence, self-regulation, curiosity, playfulness, and appreciation of beauty, which are also utilized to create experiences that are wholesome. (For example, learning a musical instrument may require you to establish a practice routine [self-regulation], to appreciate music already created [appreciation of beauty and excellence], to enjoy the learning process [curiosity], to improvise and have fun with it [playfulness, creativity], and to learn music as well fulfilling other responsibilities [prudence].)


  • Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)This movie presents a quirky psychiatrist’s quest to feel alive and search for the meaning of life. The film displays a number of character strengths including zest, curiosity, love, perspective, gratitude, and courage.

  • Silver Lining Playbook (2012)The main character, Pat, has a motto—excelsior (which is a Latin word meaning forever upward)—which embodies zest and vitality, as Pat recovers from setbacks and becomes determined, energetic, and more attentive.

  • Up (2009)An uplifting story (literally and metaphorically) of 78-year-old Carl, who pursues his lifelong dream of seeing the wilds of South America, along with an unlikely companion.

  • My Left Foot (1993)Born a quadriplegic in a poor Irish family, Christy Brown (with the help of his dedicated mother and teacher) learns to write using the only limb he has any control over: his left foot. This character displays vitality, zest, and enthusiasm for life.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Engage in a “have to do” activity: A number of psychological conditions sap our motivation. Select a “have to do” activity—one that you have to do (such as completing homework, exercising, or washing the dishes) but that you don’t feel like doing. Use your strength of creativity to do the activity in a different and exciting way. You can select a partner and do it with him or her.

  • Go outdoors: For an hour each week, do at least one outdoor activity, such as hiking, biking, mountain climbing, brisk walking, or jogging. Enjoy both the outdoors and your own internal sensations. Nature carries immense therapeutic potential.

  • Get better sleep: Improve your sleep hygiene by establishing a regular bed time. Don’t eat any later than three or four hours before bed time, and avoid doing any work in bed, ingesting caffeine late in the evening, and so on. Notice changes in your energy level.

  • Join a club: Get involved with a dance club, go to a concert, or join a performing arts group—at least a monthly event. If there is singing or dancing involved, join in. Alternatively, use your smart phone to take pictures that represent your concept of vitality and zest.

  • Socialize more with happy people: Spend time with friends who like to laugh heartily. Notice how laughter can be infectious. Alternatively, watch a sitcom on television or go to a comedy club with your friends.

(p. 288) Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of vitality & zest:

  • Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness

  • Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

  • Meklit Hadero: The unexpected beauty of everyday sounds

  • Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days


Buckingham, M. (2008). The Truth About You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.Find this resource:

Elfin, P. (2014). Dig Deep & Fly High: Reclaim Your Zest and Vitality by Loving Yourself from Inside Out. Mona Vale, NSW: Penelope Ward.Find this resource:

Peale, V. N. (1967). Enthusiasm Makes the Difference. New York: Simon & Schuster.Find this resource:


Core Virtue: Humanity

Emotional strengths that show the exercise of will in the face of opposition or internal threat

10. Love


Love includes both the capacity to love and be loved. The defining characteristic of this strength is valuing and caring for others, in particular those with whom sharing and caring is reciprocated. If love is among your top strengths, giving and receiving love comes easily to you. You can express your love toward those who you depend on and toward those who you romantically, sexually, and emotionally love. This strength allows you to put trust in others and make them a priority in your decision-making. You experience a sense of deep contentment from the devotion of those you love.

The Golden Mean

Love is arguably the wellspring from which your numerous other strengths flow. That makes striking a balance between love and other strengths challenging, especially when you may be feeling sad, anxious, ambivalent, or upset. If you tend to avoid (likely due to anxiety) instead of confront a repeat offender, you may be exercising your strength of love, possibly overlooking or even forgiving the offender. Likewise, the fear of loss of a relationship (likely due to depression) (p. 289) may compromise your strength of love, and you may tolerate unfair treatment. Relatedly, a skewed and selective expression of love can develop for one specific person—a romantic partner, parent, child, sibling, or friend—hurting others with whom you have to relate. Note that a balanced application of love is quintessentially framed within the cultural context of the individual: In interdependent cultures, this balance is to love the family as a whole, whereas in individualistic cultures, this implies balancing love and work appropriately.

  • Overuse of strength: emotional promiscuity

  • Underuse of strength: isolation, detachment


Love, a universal need to forge mutually caring relationships, acts like “super glue” that can integrate almost any number of other strengths. In this book, Session 3: Practical Wisdom, discusses numerous strategies to adaptively integrate strengths. Because of love’s all-encompassing and idiosyncratic nature, it is important to be aware of which guiding principles integrate various strengths most adaptively, given the situation or challenge at hand. (For example, if you are experiencing relationship distress, you may integrate love with social intelligence and courage to relieve the distress, whereas someone else with a similar challenge can resolve it by integrating love with playfulness and creativity.)


  • Doctor Zhivago (1965)An epic story showing love—the capacity to love and be loved—of a physician who is torn between love of his wife and love of his life, set amidst the Russian Revolution.

  • The English Patient (1996)Set during World War II, this film tells a powerful story of love, when a young nurse cares for a mysterious stranger.

  • The Bridges of Madison County (1995)Francesca Johnson, a married mother, falls in love with a traveling photographer; the romance lasts only four days, but it changes her life drastically.

  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)This film presents the deep love story between two cowboys who fall in love almost by accident, set in the conservative landscape and social milieu of the 1960s, when gay love was still largely unaccepted.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Love is a learnable skill: If your love is causing you distress, evaluate the sources and consequences of your distress. Love is an acquired skill that needs practice. Explore specific evidence-based skills, such as looking at the strengths of your loved ones (see the Tree of Positive Relationships practice in Session 12: Positive Relationships; and the Active Constructive Responding practice in Session 13: Positive Communication).

  • Keep up-to-date with your partner/loved ones: Stay connected with your loved ones. Take five minutes out of your work day to send a text, or call to ask how their day is going, especially on important days. Regularly ask your loved ones about current stressors, worries, projects, hopes, dreams, friends, and adversaries.

  • Avoid “relationship fatigue”: Most relationships start on a positive note. Over time, however, partners start assuming that they have figured each other out, and the negativity bias tends to minimize the positives and accentuate the negatives. This bias slows the growth of relationships, while anger and resentment accumulate. Use love, together with creativity and curiosity, to explore something new about your partner, and do something the two of you have not tried previously.

  • Share a deep sense of meaning: Flourishing relationships grow when couples and families play and laugh together, and when they share a deep sense of meaning. Such meaning can be shared in a number of ways, such as having values in common (e.g., (p. 290) autonomy, familial harmony, and career success) and understanding the actions that express these values.

  • Spend time together: Arrange regular family leisure activities, such as walking, hiking, biking, or camping together; taking family yoga or dance classes; or attending sporting events, retreats, concerts, or cultural festivals as a family. These activities will build pleasant, instead of toxic, memories.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of love:

  • Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

  • Helen Fisher: Why we love, why we cheat

  • Yann Dall’Aglio: Love—you’re doing it wrong

  • Mandy Len Catron: Falling in love is the easy part


Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0. New York: Plume.Find this resource:

Gottman, J. M., & Silver. N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press.Find this resource:

Pileggi Pawelski, S., & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.Find this resource:

Vaillant, G. E. (2012). Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Find this resource:


  • The Gottman Institute offers research-based assessment techniques and intervention strategies as well as information about training in couple’s therapy:

  • The Attachment Lab: The Research on attachment focuses on understanding the conscious and unconscious dynamics of the attachment behavioral system:

  • The Centre for Family Research, at the University of Cambridge, has a worldwide reputation for innovative research that increases understanding of children, parents and family relationships:

11. Kindness


Kindness includes numerous attributes such as being considerate, courteous, and caring. If kindness is among your top strengths, you translate these attributes into actions, deeds, and endeavors for others, without being asked and without expecting tangible outcomes. Kindness is not merely what you want to do. You are also aware of your motives, skills, and the likely impact of your efforts. Although the act of kindness is done without the expectation of personal gain, from a (p. 291) psychotherapeutic perspective, the person receiving the act of kindness experiences positive emotions and so does the person doing the act. Thus kindness can act as a buffer for a person in distress, by re-directing attention from oneself to others in adaptive ways. If kindness is your strength, you find joy in helping others. It doesn’t matter if you know the other person or not; you are motivated to help unconditionally.

The Golden Mean

Indeed, there is value and importance in undertaking spontaneous and random acts of kindness that address immediate needs. Such acts may include resolving someone’s technological glitch, providing an injured person with first aid, listening mindfully to someone who needs to share his or her distress, or cooking a meal for a sick friend. However, some consideration is needed in doing acts of kindness that may require a lot of effort, energy, and time. (Examples include tutoring, helping with a household construction or building project, and assisting with professional expertise such as accounting, legal, or medical.) For all such situations, explain any potential risks and outcomes. Also consider whether the help you are offering is actually needed; is accepted; is offered respectfully; is pragmatic; and is not contingent on any direct, indirect, or secondary gains. Ensure that you consult with the recipient about the process and logistics, as a number of factors may not be obvious. Also make sure that your kindness is not perceived as leniency or does not evolve into dependency. Always connect your acts of kindness with your deeper values. It is very important to understand that kindness also includes being kind to the self. Kindness devoid of self-compassion can be an excuse to avoid or suppress your own harsh inner critic. A balanced use of kindness entails that you are not being unduly critical of yourself.

  • Overuse of strength: intrusiveness

  • Underuse of strength: indifference, cruelty, mean-spiritedness


Kindness works well with a number of other strengths. For example, deploying facets of emotional intelligence can help you appraise the nuances of situations such as: Is kindness relevant to the situation, or could some other strength bring about a better outcome? If, for example, a task requires a very specific skill set that you yourself can only accomplish in part, you can ask someone else to help you (teamwork), or clarify the extent of what you know so that the recipient is aware of what you can and cannot accomplish (authenticity), and then get the rest of the task done elsewhere. If you are eager to help someone and you have the skills to deliver the help but you are afraid of making mistakes, consult and collaborate with the recipient, and utilize other strengths such as prudence, judgment, and open-mindedness to create an optimal experience of expressing your kindness.


  • Blind Side (2009)Based on a true story of kindness and compassion, Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy, is adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy—a connection that leads Michael to play in the National Football League.

  • Children of Heaven (1997, Iran)This movie shows kindness and compassion, rather than traditional sibling rivalry, between a brother and sister who share a pair of shoes.

  • The Secret Life of Bees (2008) –A moving story that shows a powerful connection between strangers. A 14-year-old girl escapes a troubled world to find care and love in the home of the Boatwright sisters and their engrossing world of beekeeping.

  • The Cider House Rules (1999)Homer, a youth residing in an orphanage in Maine, learns both medicine and the value of kind actions over blind deference to rules.

(p. 292) Therapeutic actions

  • Build self-efficacy: Commit to doing at least one act of kindness to help others. When you help others genuinely, you do so without the expectation of any reward or other benefit. However, you are likely to reap psychological benefits as helping others builds your own self-efficacy, which in turn, decreases psychiatric distress.

  • Be kind to yourself: Psychologically distressed people—especially those battling depression—harshly criticize themselves and think of themselves as the cause of their distress. If you are like this, start to use self-compassion, that is, be kind to yourself. Instead of exclusively focusing on your deficits, affirm your strengths in an authentic manner.

  • Express kindness through communication: Use kinder and softer words to people when interacting through email, writing letters, talking on the phone, or interacting on social media. Create a list of tips and strategies for being kind on social media. Post this list and elicit responses and suggestions from you friends and family.

  • Expand your kindness and cultural connections: Select one specific and distinct culture. Using different sources, including a few from within the culture, devise a list of cultural expressions that are often misunderstood by people outside the culture. Share the list with your social circles.

  • Engage in spontaneous acts of kindness: While driving, give way to others, and be courteous toward pedestrians and bicyclists. When entering or exiting buildings, hold the doors for others. Help fix someone’s flat tire, or offer your cell phone to a stranded motorist. Carry jumper cables and flares in your trunk in case you need to help someone on the road.

  • Share belongings and expertise: Share your belongings with others (e.g., lawn mower, snow blower, or jumper cables). Offer to help them if they don’t know how to operate the equipment or to go about accomplishing a task.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of kindness:

  • Karen Armstrong: Charter of Compassion

  • Matthieu Ricard: How to let altruism be your guide

  • Robert Thurman: Expanding our circle of compassion

  • Hannah Brencher: Love letters to strangers

  • Abigail Marsh: Why some people are more altruistic than others


Keltner, D., & Marsh, J., & Smith, J. A. (Eds.). (2010). The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness. New York: W. W. Norton.Find this resource:

Rifkin, J. (2009). The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. New York: Penguin.Find this resource:

Ferrucci, P. (2007). The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. Paperback edition. New York: Penguin.Find this resource:


12. Social Intelligence


People with social intelligence (which also includes emotional and personal intelligence) are aware of their own emotions and intentions as well as those of others. If this is one of your top strengths, you are most likely well aware of your own emotions, motives, and reactions (personal intelligence), as well as keenly aware of others (social intelligence). You have an uncanny ability to notice a shift in emotions in others and are able to make necessary adjustments to ensure a cordial milieu is maintained. While working with others, you make sure everyone feels comfortable, included, and valued, especially in endeavors that include a group. From a therapeutic standpoint, social intelligence offers you access to your own feelings as well as to feelings of others. This access can work in fostering, maintaining, and deepening healthy relationships.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of social intelligence enables you to notice nuanced differences among other people, especially when their mood or motivation changes. This strength lets you respond in ways that are appropriate to the situation. You connect with others almost effortlessly. You react appropriately, and when needed, you express sympathy, empathy, or simply are able to put yourself in another’s shoes. (For example, if something triggers sadness in your friend, your social intelligence will notice it, and you will be able to say or do something that doesn’t make your friend feel isolated.) You have the ability to know the whole person. Much like love and kindness, social intelligence is one of the key strengths for a healthy life.

Deficit and excess of this strength are associated with psychological problems. A lack of social intelligence doesn’t allow you to connect with others on a deeper level. Therefore, you are unable to forge connections that can be therapeutic and supportive, especially when you are stressed, sad, and/or anxious—states that are, by default, isolating and do not easily enable you to open up to others. You may also feel that sharing your psychological distress with others is embarrassing because they may not understand it and you may be burdening them unnecessarily. However, if you have deep and secure relationships due to your social intelligence, it is relatively easy for you to open up to others and seek support. In this way, your social intelligence offers you buffers, especially during difficult times.

There are also severe deficits of social intelligence. These manifest through conditions like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and schizoid personality disorder. These conditions, which have strong biological roots and need specialized, sustained treatment, do benefit from buildable aspects of social intelligence.

An excess of social intelligence can also be problematic. For example, knowing and understanding others, amidst complex social contexts, is time consuming and requires considerable emotional investment. If you invest these resources excessively, you may not have time for yourself. Second, you may garner a flattering reputation of being available for everyone but may very likely set up unrealistic expectations in others who would like to confide in you. You may become the “one (p. 294) pseudo-therapist” for many, and this could, and most likely would, exhaust you emotionally. Your social intelligence may become over-taxed; you might start showing signs of irritability and being less emphatic—having heard the same story from many—and ultimately you may start feeling inadequate. Therefore, a balanced use of social intelligence entails that you are mindful of your own well-being.

  • Overuse of strength: psycho-babbling, self-deception

  • Underuse of strength: obtuseness, cluelessness


To accomplish a balanced use of social intelligence, you will need to use it along with other strengths, such as perspective, which is critical. In deploying social and personal intelligence in any endeavor, always keep the big picture (the meaning and purpose) front and center. Social intelligence works well when you also use your judgment and open-mindedness to examine the situation from all possible angles to catch any potential biases. Vitality and zest can accentuate social intelligence, especially when an event or situation needs motivation and hope. Social intelligence can also resolve many tense situations if you are able to spot a lighter, playful, and humorous aspect of the situation to break the impasse or relieve the tension.


  • Monsieur Lazhar (2011)—Bahir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant and replacement teacher, uses his social intelligence to connect with students in a class that just lost their teacher in a traumatic way.

  • Children of a Lesser God (1986)This film beautifully depicts social and personal intelligence as the relationship between a speech therapist and a woman with hearing challenges evolves in understanding one another’s emotions, intentions, and actions.

  • K-Pax (2001)A mysterious patient in a mental hospital claims to be an alien from a distant planet, demonstrating a remarkable display of social intelligence in relating to the other patients.

  • I am Sam (2002)Sam, a man with significant psychological challenges, fights for custody of his young daughter, arguing successfully that it is not brains but love and relationships that count the most.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Tackle uncomfortable situations with emotional intelligence: Consider tackling a social situation that typically produces feelings of anxiety and depression for you. (Examples may include sharing your thoughts in a work meeting on issues you disagree with, discussing an unresolved issue that continues to bother you with family members, and communicating feedback to a friend about something you disagree with and feel strongly about.) Use your social and personal intelligence and take turns to clarify points not previously clarified. Share your motivation and underlying values, and ask others to do the same. At the very least, this process will help you and others to ascertain values.

  • Listen without interruption: Listen to your loved ones, especially to those with whom you interact frequently and frankly. Let them know you would like to listen from start to finish, without interrupting or preparing a rebuttal. Make mental notes of points to clarify, and address those when the person is done speaking. Then share your thoughts, and also elicit feedback from the sharer.

  • Unpack offenses: If someone offends you, attempt to find at least one positive element in his motives. Using notions associated with social intelligence, consider reasons why the offensive behavior may have resulted from temporary, situational factors, rather than from the person’s disposition or nature.

  • (p. 295) Elicit feedback: Ask someone close to you about times when you did not emotionally understand her and also about how she would like to be emotionally understood in the future. Think of a few small, practical steps that you can take when next interacting with this person.

  • Be plain and direct: In your close relationships, speak plainly and directly about your needs and wishes. Allow others to do the same without judging them or responding with rebuttals.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of social intelligence:

  • Daniel Goleman: Why aren’t we more compassionate?

  • Joan Halifax: Compassion and the true meaning of empathy

  • David Brooks: The social animal


Cassady, J. C., & Eissa, M. A. (Eds.) (2008). Emotional Intelligence: Perspectives on Educational and Positive Psychology. New York: P. Lang.Find this resource:

Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York: Bantam Books.Find this resource:

Livermore, D. A. (2009). Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.Find this resource:


Core Virtue: Justice

Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others

13. Citizenship & Teamwork


The character strength of citizenship, also called teamwork, involves working as a member of a group for the common good. If this is one of your top strengths, you are most likely willing to make sacrifices for the common good of the groups you are involved with, such as your neighborhood, religious community, cohort at school, professional networks, and cultural circles. You feel affinity and closely identify with your neighborhood, city, province or state, and your country, in an adaptive manner, without being xenophobic. These groups and units form sources of identity for you. (p. 296) If citizenship and teamwork are among your top strengths, you manifest them by fulfilling and/or going over and above your civic responsibilities.

People who participate in activities that build citizenship and teamwork generally have good mental health because these activities connect them with like-minded people, which in turn builds their social trust. Having social trust provides assurance that the world around you is not an unsafe place. Furthermore, participating in community-building activities enhances self-efficacy.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of citizenship and teamwork entails that you connect with your group or team and find ways of utilizing your strengths, expertise, knowledge, and resources for the welfare of the group. However, citizenship does not mean that you blindly follow the rules and regulations of those in power. A balanced and well-adjusted use of citizenship means that almost every member of the team feels included and is intrinsically motivated to work for the success of the group. Citizenship and teamwork function optimally when team goals take precedence, despite inevitable individual differences. Indeed, each team member maintains his or her own identity, but the collective identity creates group cohesion and solidarity. You may have heard expressions such as, “band of brothers” and “sisterhood,” which symbolically represent family.

A balanced use of citizenship also entails that you do not become a spectator. If a few individuals assume a greater role that could diminish your participation, you need to use strengths such as courage and fairness to ensure that the group’s harmony is not compromised. A lack of teamwork and citizenship may leave you isolated and deprived of social and community support that can make a significant difference, especially when you experience psychological distress.

  • Overuse of strength: mindless and automatic obedience

  • Underuse of strength: selfishness, narcissism


To optimally use citizenship and teamwork, you will need numerous other strengths, such as knowing yourself and others (emotional and social intelligence). When working with a group of diverse individuals (e.g., in terms of ethnicity, educational background, dispositions, or preferences), you will benefit from open-mindedness, fairness, and being aware and respectful of differences.

Almost every team or group experiences tensions and conflicts. Therefore, you can spark the creativity of group members to brainstorm solutions for the common good and optimal team performance. Well-intentioned humor and playful relieve group tensions, and the task becomes easier if group members share a common purpose (perspective) to increase solidarity. Furthermore, teamwork greatly benefits when the strengths of group members are spotted, acknowledged, and supported.


  • Field of Dreams (1989)An excellent depiction of citizenship and teamwork, this film shows the collaborative efforts of an Iowa farmer who interprets a mysterious message, if you build it, they will come.

  • Invictus (2009)This is the inspiring true story of a rugby team that wins the World Cup on the field and also unites post-apartheid South Africa off the field.

  • Hotel Rwanda (2004)An extraordinary display of social responsibility by Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who, during the Rwanda Genocide, housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees, shielding them from the Hutu militia.

  • Blind Side (2009)A homeless and traumatized boy becomes an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.

(p. 297) Therapeutic Actions

  • Avoid civic alienation: Many of us disengage from civic participation, assuming that whatever we do, nothing will change. This is a hopeless and pessimistic view—two hallmarks of depression. Get involved in community work and bring your friends along. Indeed, your work will benefit the organization, and, more so, civic engagement will connect you with a noble cause and company, both of which are potent predictors of mental well-being.

  • Build an online community: Build a web-based community whose members share a noble purpose, such as saving a specific endangered species; raising funds for refugees; or taking civic action against discrimination such as Islamophobia, homophobia, or xenophobia. Share this online hub to build a community.

  • Become involved with a community garden: Start or join a community garden, which can offer you a supportive, safe, and calming environment. You can interact with others who may (or may not) be struggling with mental health issues. Sharing the space and task (gardening) helps you become part of a community.

  • Join a community mental health support group: Start or join a community-based mental health organization. Using multimedia resources, you can present illustrations of how others have successfully dealt with mental health challenges. Explore the most effective treatments for specific mental health issues.

  • Decorate a communal place with the art of “lived experiences”: In an available community space, invite individuals with mental health challenges to present their “lived experiences.” These would be people who are willing to share their experiences through any number of artistic forms. Individuals can submit their art expression online as well.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of citizenship & teamwork:

  • Jeremy Rifkin: The empathic civilization

  • Douglas Beal: An alternative to GDP that encompasses our wellbeing

  • Hugh Evans: What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?

  • Bill Strickland: Rebuilding a neighborhood with beauty, dignity, hope


Putnum, R. (2001). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.Find this resource:

Kielburger, C., & Keilburger, M. (2008). Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World. New York: Simon & Schuster.Find this resource:

Ricard, M. (2015). Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. New York: Little Brown.Find this resource:


(p. 298) 14. Fairness


Fairness involves treating everyone according to universal ideals of equality and justice. If fairness is one of your top strengths, you generally do not let your personal feelings bias your moral or ethical decisions about others, and instead you rely on a broad set of moral values. Your sense of fairness incorporates both a respect for moral guidelines and a compassionate approach to caring for others. This is a strength you can apply across all aspects of your lifepersonal, professional, leisure, and communityin everyday interactions with social justice issues.

The Golden Mean

A balanced application of fairness entails that you generally abide by the principle of taking the welfare of others into consideration, even if you do not know them. The challenge you may face is the definition of “welfare.” You may struggle to decide what is fair and what is right, as the cultural context may pose conflicts between the two and how they represent underlying core values. For example, female attire (a behavioral expression) and modesty (an underlying value) vary vastly from culture to culture and even within the same culture. A woman wearing a bikini in a conservative Muslim country could be considered a sign of immodesty, while such swimwear is perfectly acceptable in a Western country. Likewise, wearing a hijab for Muslim women is expected and admired in Muslim countries, while this veil or headscarf could be perceived by some as a forced choice or a religious or cultural obligation in some Western countries. Therefore, to strike a balance of fairness among competing rights, rituals, and values, interpret fairness in light of each context. Before applying fairness, ask about and understand the sociocultural cues. Seek wise council to interpret them. Fairness, perhaps more than any other strength, is not black and white, and you should therefore be prepared to navigate the grey areas.

Before applying fairness, always explore what the ultimate aim is. For example, look at equity and equality. In the context of fairness, equity is treating everyone in a way in which they are successful or not harmed, while equality is treating everyone the same, even though not everyone needs the same sort or levels of support. Along the same lines, if you treat everyone equally, know that unless you construct a Utopian society, not everyone will be treated fairly. Therefore, rather than applying fairness in absolute terms, use it contextually.

  • Overuse of strength: impartiality without perspective or empathy, detachment

  • Underuse of strength: prejudice, partisanship


For a balanced use of fairness, you will need a number of strengths such as leadership, citizenship, and teamwork, which will enable you to apply fairness easily. Likewise, honesty and authenticity will reinforce a sense of fairness. Kindness should also be considered in applying fairness. (For example, if a teacher keeps punishing a student who exhibits hyperactive behavior due to an underlying attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, punishing this student will likely lose its impact and may leave him more irritable and resentful. But if the teacher uses kindness and offers appropriate modifications to the student, the odds are better that he will improve his behavior.)


  • The Emperor’s Club (2002)William Hundert, a principled Classics professor, comes into conflict with a pupil at a prestigious academy, as his attempts to teach the young man to act fairly and morally have mixed results.

  • (p. 299) Philadelphia (1993)Andrew Beckett, fired from his law firm for being both gay and HIV-positive, hires homophobic lawyer Joe Miller to act on his behalf. During the legal proceedings, Miller comes to view Beckett as a person worthy of respect and fair treatment, rather than as a stereotype.

  • The Green Zone (2010)This is a chilling depiction of fairness and social justice. Roy Miller, a senior CIA officer, unearths evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq war and realizes that operatives on both sides of the conflict are attempting to spin the story in their favor.

  • Suffragettes (2015)This film is an excellent depiction of fairness. It tells a story of ordinary women during the first part of the 20th century who are loving wives, mothers, and daughters. Their main concern is gender inequality. They face sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, and violation of their parental rights, and their salaries are much lower than those of their male colleagues.

Therapeutic actions

  • Understand biases and preconceptions: To promote fairness, become aware of the discrimination you witness or experience firsthand. This discrimination may manifest in many ways, including ageism, ableism, gender, sexual orientation, accent, language fluency, religion, and xenophobia. Use your strength of fairness to do something to stop these biases and preconceptions.

  • Increase fairness in everyday life: Make a list of everyday tasks, interactions, and activities that can use a dose of fairness—things that will increase your stress if they don’t become more equitable. (For example, speak with your partner about taking over some of the daily cooking and household tasks.) Find culturally and contextually appropriate ways to apply fairness with the goal of decreasing stress.

  • Identify social issues that bother you: Make a list of societal issues that upset you the most, focusing on issues that could be resolved by fairness. (For example, does it bother you that females continue to earn significantly less than males for the same work? Does it bother you that indigenous peoples struggle with basic amenities? Or that, despite clear evidence, supermarkets continue to sell harmful, synthetic food products?)

  • Monitor your judgments: Self-monitor to see whether your judgments are affected by your personal likes and dislikes or if they are based on principles of justice and fairness. Try to minimize the influence of your personal preferences when making future judgments.

  • Speak up for your group: Be a voice for the rights of others in a manner that respects people from other groups.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of fairness:

  • Daniel Reisel: The neuroscience of restorative justice

  • Paul Zak: Trust, morality—and oxytocin?

  • Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives

  • Bono: My wish: Three actions for Africa


Sun, L. (2009). The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality and Our Biological Nature. New York: Prometheus Books.Find this resource:

Harkins, D. (2013). Beyond the Campus: Building a Sustainable University Community Partnership. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.Find this resource:

(p. 300) Last, J. (2014). Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life Is Funny as Hell. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.Find this resource:


  • The difference between equality and equity:

  • With more than 100 national chapters worldwide, Transparency International works with partners in government, business, and civil society to put effective measures in place to tackle corruption:

  • Roméo Antonius Dallaire: commandeered the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1993. Since his retirement, he has become an outspoken advocate for human rights, genocide prevention, mental health, and war-affected children:

15. Leadership


Leadership is the process of motivating, directing, and coordinating members of a group to achieve a common goal. If this is one of your top strengths, you assume a dominant role in social interaction; however, effective leadership also requires listening to the opinions and feelings of other group members as much as it involves active direction. As a leader, you are able to help your group achieve goals in a cohesive, efficient, and amiable manner.

The Golden Mean

We see a balanced use of leadership when a person is able to find common ground in a group, despite differences among its members. This common ground is communicated effectively and in different ways, so that group members stay motivated. Some leaders who are remarkable in instilling hope and reinvigorating the spirts of their followers may lack the skills needed to translate their vision into clear, concrete, and tangible tasks and outcomes. Therefore, a balanced use of leadership incorporates the will and motivation plus the concrete steps needed to be successful.

Also, a balanced use of leadership requires following as well as leading. That is, without humility and the ability to listen, a leader can easily evolve into an authoritarian figure. In addition, a balanced use of leadership requires that you be able to build genuine and trusting relationships with the people you lead. Through trust, you have the highest chance of bringing out the best in your group. Relationships based on fear or the abuse of power or authority will induce fear, and, instead of being their best, people in such a group are more likely operate out of fear and mistrust.

  • Overuse of strength: despotism, bossiness

  • Underuse of strength: compliance, acquiescence


Leadership can use any number of strengths to foster well-being and resilience. For example, social intelligence, teamwork, and kindness can build strong ties within your group, and humility and gratitude can make your leadership humane and accessible. Together these strengths can create synergy, which may enable you to stay attuned to your group.

(p. 301) Movies

  • Gandhi (1982)The life of Mohandas Gandhi offers the model of leadership based on the ethos of nonviolence, social justice, and humility, ideas that inspired the likes of Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Iron Lady (2011)This movie is based on the life of Margaret Thatcher, the British stateswoman and politician who became the first ever female (and longest-serving) prime minister of the United Kingdom in the 20th century.

  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)This film chronicles Nelson Mandela’s epic leadership journey, starting from his early life, through his coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison, to become the president of post-apartheid South Africa.

  • Lincoln (2012)This movie about Abraham Lincoln recounts his extraordinary number of strengths, especially his leadership and courage to go against the current and emancipate slaves despite continuing unrest on the battlefield and strife within his own ranks.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Stand up for someone or champion a cause: Stand up for someone who is being treated unfairly. Encourage other leaders to emphasize fairness in their group processes. Alternatively, you can champion a cause that you find meaningful. This could involve many issues, such as child labor, underemployment of marginalized groups, school bullying (including cyber-bullying), or the use of environmentally unhealthy chemicals.

  • Read a biography of a leader who struggled with mental health challenges: Read a biography and/or watch a film about a famous leader who suffered from mental health challenges and who dealt with them through the strength of leadership (e.g., Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill). What insights can you draw from this leader that may boost your own strength of leadership?

  • Mentor a child: Mentor a child in your neighborhood or in your circles who could benefit from your skills (e.g., academic, technical, athletic). Assess your mood before and after each mentoring session and also as you see the impact of your efforts.

  • Mediate between two feuding friends: When two people are in an argument, become a mediator. Invite them to meet with you together, and, after setting some ground rules, which you can enforce, let them share their points of view. Emphasize problem-solving through discussion.

  • Lead a family activity: Organize and lead a family event that includes both young and old relatives. Use your leadership skills to invite family members to participate in this activity, especially those who may not be on speaking terms or may be holding grudges against one another. Also involve everyone in the conversation, rather than allowing age groups to self-segregate. Draw people’s attention to cross-generational similarities.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of leadership:

  • Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader

  • Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

  • Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe


Avolio, B. & Luthans, F. (2006). The High-Impact Leader. New York: McGraw-Hill.Find this resource:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004). Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. New York: Penguin.Find this resource:

Rath, T. & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths-Based Leadership. New York: Gallup Press.Find this resource:


Core Virtue: Temperance

Strengths that protect against excess

16. Forgiveness & Mercy


Forgiveness is a process of gradual change, not a one-time decision and event. In forgiveness, you are willing to forsake your right and desire to take revenge; in fact, you are willing to cease the cycle of revenge, and you will likely be able to find a healthier path toward self-growth. This strength involves forgiving those who have wronged or offended you. Through forgiveness you accept the shortcomings of others; give offenders a second chance; and deliberately put aside the temptation to hold a grudge, ill-feelings, and vindictiveness. Moreover, forgiveness enables you to process the self-destructive negativity that keeps your anger simmering and your other strengths at bay. In order to enact forgiveness, you need mercy. To motivate yourself to go through the process of forgiveness, you need to exercise mercy in terms of accepting the shortcomings of others and making cognitive and emotional space to offer a gift to the transgressor. Mercy is important in initiating the process of forgiveness and holding onto it.

The Golden Mean

To achieve a balanced use of forgiveness, it is also important to thoroughly understand what forgiveness is not and what constitutes mercy. In using the strength of forgiveness, you are not absolving, avoiding, overlooking, or ignoring the impact of the offence; nor are you minimizing the need for justice, swapping negative emotions with positive ones, resorting to fate, compromising, opting to resolve unilaterally, or hoping to attain the high moral ground. Forgiveness is not an outcome; rather, it is a process of prosocial change. This often gradual, complex, and difficult process is one in which the person offended willfully decides to stop the cycle of revenge (p. 303) and move beyond the offense, such that the offense—although not expunged from memory—no longer causes ongoing pain.

Attaining forgiveness is exceedingly difficult. However, it is worth pursuing a balanced notion of forgiveness because its lack (being “unforgiving”) will likely make you hard-hearted and can leave you embittered by memories of the past. Forgiveness becomes easier when you are able tap into your mercy and kindness. Lack of forgiveness and mercy may impact your relationships as your trust may be tarnished forever. Furthermore, whenever the offence is triggered, this can drain you emotionally and can leave you once again dwelling for days on the negative memories. Too much forgiveness and mercy, on the other hand, can lead to you becoming a non-assertive and vulnerable “doormat.” And if you are trying to forgive something that should not be forgiven—such as abuse, gross and repeated violation of other’s rights, or offenses that hurt you but the actual victim may be someone else—sometimes the process of forgiveness is not effective.

You most likely need a number of strengths—whether or not these are among your top ones—to optimally use forgiveness. You need courage to overcome internal fear and let go of the anger and revenge. Judgment and open-mindedness can allow you to examine the situation thoroughly from all sides. Kindness can enable you to offer forgiveness, which is an altruistic gift.

  • Overuse of strength: permissiveness

  • Underuse of strength: mercilessness, vengefulness


A regular dose of gratitude—to fill your head and heart with authentic and realistic positive events in your life—can help counteract the bitter memories. Once you decide to forgive, you also need persistence and social support to hold on to forgiveness.


  • Incendies (2010, France/Canada)In a series of flashbacks, twins (a brother and sister) uncover the mystery of their mother’s life, which unsettles them, but the strength of forgiveness helps them to reconcile with the past.

  • Pay it Forward (2000)Seventh-grader Trevor McKinney undertakes an intriguing assignment—to change the world for the better—which starts a chain of acts of kindness and forgiveness.

  • Dead Man Walking (1995)This film tells the tale of a convicted murderer on death row who befriends a nun, who helps him understand that forgiveness is possible even under the worst circumstances.

  • Terms of Endearment (1983)Amidst the ups and downs of life, a mother and daughter find ways to see past resentments and transgressions and find joy in their relationship.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Evaluate the effect on you of “unforgiveness”: Explore how not forgiving and resentment torture you emotionally. Do these produce disruptive emotions, such as anger, hatred, fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, or jealousy? Reflect on and write about how these disruptive emotions affect your behavior. Assess their collective impact, especially on your mental health.

  • Let go of negative emotions through forgiveness: Review Session 6: Forgiveness, which stresses that the process of forgiveness allows you to replace negative emotions with positive ones. Using your strength of perspective, reflect on the benefits of “letting go” of negative emotions through forgiveness.

  • Search your motivation for forgiveness: You need to feel willing to forgive internally. Mindfully attune yourself to the feelings of holding on to negative emotions related to the offense, and also to emotions that may come from enacting forgiveness.

  • (p. 304) Recall when you were forgiven: Recall vividly and write about situations in which you offended someone and were forgiven. If the person who forgave you is a loved one, ask what helped him or her to apply forgiveness as a relationship corrective or as a restorative act. Reflect on what it would take for you to apply a similar corrective or restorative action.

  • Plan your response for the next time someone offends you: Create a plan, and rehearse it if possible. Periodically affirm to yourself, “No matter how he or she offends me, I will respond as I have planned.”

  • Move from brooding to empathy: Are ruminating or brooding getting in the way of your path to forgive? When you brood, then anger, sadness, and ambivalence take over your thinking. Deliberately see if you can replace your thoughts of brooding to empathize with the offender. Try to understand from the offender’s perspective why she or he offended you. Then assess whether your reaction is hurting you more than the offender, especially when you slip into brooding.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of forgiveness and mercy:

  • Aicha el-Wafi and Phyllis Rodriguez: The mothers who found forgiveness, friendship

  • Joshua Prager: In search of the man who broke my neck

  • Shaka Senghor: Why your worst deeds don’t define you


Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. (2001). Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Washington, DC: APA Books.Find this resource:

Nussbaum, M. C. (2016). Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Tutu, D. (2015). The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. New York: HarperOne.Find this resource:

McCullough, M. (2008). Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. New York: Wiley.Find this resource:


17. Humility & Modesty


Humility and modesty entail letting your accomplishments and your accolades speak for themselves. You are aware of them but don’t feel the need to make others explicitly aware of them. You are also aware of your limitations. If this is one of your top strengths, you do not perceive yourself (p. 305) as being better than others, although your self-esteem is uncompromised. In contemporary culture, which is often blinded by the social media spotlight on one’s accomplishments and happiness, you avoid seeking the spotlight. As a humble person, you are honest with yourself, with your fallibility, and with what you cannot do, and you are open to asking for help.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of humility entails the attributes noted previously, but be aware that an overuse of humility and modesty (being too humble or overly modest) can be hard to spot. To distinguish a balanced versus overuse of humility and modesty, you need to assess the specific situation to determine if you are really fine with it, or if your mental health challenges are leading you to be too unassuming and quiet, while others take advantage of the situation. (For example, you may have been overlooked for a job promotion or leadership role—despite deserving it on the basis of merit—simply because your humility won’t allow you to speak up for yourself, or because you have a modest opinion of yourself. It could also be that humility and modesty don’t allow you to pursue higher positions that you deserve). To achieve a balance, you need to figure out if you are okay with the status quo, and if you are not, you need to tamp down your humility and assert your rights. If you are unsure about what to do, consult with someone wise and impartial.

On the other hand, if you lack humility and modesty (or if you have been told so), ask a trusted friend to give you honest feedback. Select someone who is not afraid of providing this feedback, and who you are not afraid of hearing it from. Think at length about what this friend has to say, and select a few areas to work on. (For example, resist the need to share your accomplishments with people who are not your closest friends, those to whom you feel the need to prove yourself.) You may also feel a heightened desire to be acknowledged, but this may not be entirely due to a lack of humility. Rather, you might have had experiences of being put down by others, especially older siblings or parents, or being repeatedly told that you, compared to other siblings, may not accomplish much. It is equally plausible that your expression of zest and playfulness may be perceived as a lack of humility and modesty. The golden mean of humility and modesty cannot be appraised and appreciated without understanding all the nuances of the context.

  • Overuse of strength: self-deprecation

  • Underuse of strength: foolish self-esteem, arrogance


Humility, by default, melds well with kindness, social intelligence, self-regulation, and prudence. However, it is important that similar strengths work synergistically to continue the status quo. (For example, if you are known at work to be a humble person, and if kindness, prudence, and humility and modesty are among your top strengths, the combination of these strengths could reinforce nonassertive, unassuming, and down-to-earth tendencies that may not serve you well. You might be better off using strengths such as zest and curiosity, so that you achieve an optimal balance.) As a humble and modest person, you are open to the views of others, so seek opinions about yourself from a trusted friend who will likely highlight your accomplishments. Accept compliments with grace and, of course, humility.


  • Forest Gump (1994)Despite a low IQ, Forest Gump accomplishes a lot: meeting presidents, winning an All American football player award, receiving the Congressional medal of honor, and being featured on magazine covers. Displaying humility, he experiences all of his accomplishments in stride.

  • Peaceful Warrior (2006)Dan, brimming with pride for being an elite gymnast, thinks that he has figured out life, until a surprising mentor, Socrates, teaches him humility and wisdom.

  • The Passion of the Christ (2004)This film shows the final hours of Jesus Christ and numerous, moving examples of humility.

(p. 306) Therapeutic Actions

  • Cultivate humility through other strengths: You can deploy your other strengths to cultivate humility. For example, be sensitive (social and emotional intelligence) as to how your inadvertent “showing off” can make others feel. After sharing news of an accomplishment with your family members or close friends, ask a confidant how the news was received. Did it feel like bragging or showing off? Did it draw an inadvertent comparison with someone present, making him or her feel uncomfortable?

  • Listen more, speak less: If you are aware (or have been told) that you speak more than others in a group situation, concentrate on listening to the words of other people rather than simply waiting for your turn to talk.

  • Acknowledge your mistakes: Acknowledge your mistakes, especially those that have created a rift between you and your loved ones. Apologize even to those who are younger than you. Be aware of your place as a role model to the next generation.

  • Let others discover your skills, talents, and accomplishments: Resist showing off your accomplishments, talents, and skills. Allow others to notice them on their own.

  • Compliment sincerely: Compliment sincerely if you find someone is authentic and better than you in some ways. Accept compliments from others humbly.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of humility and modesty:

  • Feisal Abdul Rauf: Lose your ego, find your compassion

  • Robert Wright: Progress is not a zero-sum game

  • Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

  • Sam Richards: A radical experiment in empathy


Hess, E. D., & Ludwig, K. (2017). Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.Find this resource:

Nielsen, R., Marrone, J. A., & Ferraro, H. S. (2014). Leading with Humility. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Worthington, E. L. (2007). Humility: The Quiet Virtue. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.Find this resource:


18. Prudence


Prudence is a practical orientation toward future goals. If it is your top strength, you are generally quite careful about your choices. You don’t take undue risks, and you keep long-term goals in mind when making short-term decisions. Therefore, you are a good planner and also (p. 307) anticipate unexpected outcomes. You generally arrive early or on time. When you are late due to circumstances beyond your control, you find ways to inform those waiting. You drive carefully and follow traffic rules and regulations. When you make a decision or plan, you remove unnecessary distractions. You take your time to clear your mind and gather your thoughts. You monitor and control impulsive behavior and anticipate the consequences of your actions. You refrain from making snap judgments, and you do not yield easily or spontaneously to proposals and ideas.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of prudence requires making decisions and approaching important tasks with caution and deliberation. However, an overuse of this strength can manifest itself in the form of preoccupation with details and analysis, which may appear like an obsession. Indeed, there are tasks that require meticulous detail—such as performing brain surgery, entering your credit card number on your phone’s key pad, and doing a spell check before submitting an editorial to the newspaper. But there are tasks that do not require such meticulous detail—such as perfectly loading the dishwasher, spending more time arranging everything on your desk and far less time on actual the work to be done, and focusing more on the formatting than on the content of a critical report. Utilizing prudence in such situations would be an overuse of the strength. A balanced use of prudence can help you plan well, arrive early or on time, motivate you to follow rules and regulations, and buffer against feeling overwhelmed when unexpected situations surface.

This strength is not synonymous with stinginess or timidity and instead involves an intelligent and efficient perspective toward achieving major goals in life. However, an excessive use of prudence may lead to ambivalence and indecisiveness. You may experience “decision paralysis.” On the other hand, a lack of prudence can lead to rushed decisions, overlooking risks, or being lax about rules and regulations. There are always exceptional situations due to extenuating circumstances, but a lack of prudence may not let you adequately assess the situation, and you may make a decision sooner than you should. (For example, if someone asks that you extend the deadline for a grant or job application, a lack of prudence will manifest in you making a decision without fully exploring the ground on which such an exception should be granted, because it may not be fair to those who submitted their applications on time.)

  • Overuse of strength: prudishness, stuffiness

  • Underuse of strength: recklessness, sensation-seeking


You can use any number of strengths to achieve a balanced use of prudence. Social intelligence can help you determine the motives of others. Curiosity can help you explore more to make a prudent decision. Persistence and self-regulation can help you follow through on your prudent decision. Open-mindedness and kindness can help you do a thorough cost-and-benefit analysis and also explore the human dimensions of your decisions.


  • Shawshank Redemption (1995)Andy Dufresne, wrongly convicted of a double murder and serving his sentence at the Shawshank State Prison in Maine, uses his strengths of prudence, social intelligence, and resilience to improve the conditions of the prison, which enhances the dignity of the prisoners.

  • Driving Miss Daisy (1989)Daisy Werthan, a wealthy 72-year-old Jewish widow, slowly builds trust and friendship with her African-American chauffer, Hoke Colburn. Their friendship develops through the mutual strength of prudence.

  • The Queen (2006)Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II and brilliantly captures her strengths, especially her prudence, sense of duty, and stoicism.

(p. 308) Therapeutic Actions

  • Make important decisions when you are relaxed: Making big decisions when relaxed enables you to consider all the possibilities, rather than making a snap decision that could backfire later on. If you must make a decision under pressure (such as when you are anxious or depressed), take a few seconds to breathe deeply and clear your mind.

  • Remove distractions: Remove all extraneous distractions before you make your next three important decisions. Take the time to clear your mind and gather your thoughts.

  • Anticipate long-term consequences: Visualize the consequences of your decisions in 1, 5, and 10 years’ time. Take these long-term consequences into account when making short-term choices.

  • Reflect before speaking: Think twice before saying anything. Do this exercise at least 10 times a week and note its effects.

  • Drive cautiously or follow traffic rules: Drive cautiously and note that there are fewer time-bound emergencies than you think. Make highway safety a priority, especially during busy times such as rush hour and holiday weekends.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of prudence:

  • Naomi Klein: Addicted to risk

  • Paolo Cardini: Forget multitasking, try monotasking

  • Gary Lauder’s new traffic sign: Take Turns


Hariman, R. (2003). Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Practice. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.Find this resource:

McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: Crown.Find this resource:

Gracian, J., & Robbins, J. (2011). The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. London: PenguinFind this resource:


19. Self-Regulation


Self-regulation is one’s ability to exert control over oneself in order to achieve goals or meet standards. If this is one of your top strengths, you are most likely able to control instinctive responses such as aggression and impulsivity, and instead, you respond according to well-thought-out standards of behavior. In the context of psychological distress, self-regulation allows you to regulate your feelings, thoughts, and actions. When you become overwhelmed, this strength helps you redirect your emotions in a healthy manner. Even when others react strongly, you keep your poise and composure. You do not become incited easily, and you know how to keep your composure.

(p. 309) The Golden Mean

A balanced use of self-regulation depends on the context. You don’t underestimate the impact of a serious situation and assume that it will somehow resolve, nor do you overestimate the situation and panic. A balanced use of self-regulation also requires that you are aware of what you are regulating. From a therapeutic perspective, take these three situations: (a) setting concrete goals for losing weight, (b) refraining from spiraling into negativity, and (c) avoiding getting into unhealthy relationships. To lose weight, you need a balanced application of self-regulation to eat healthy foods and to exercise. However, this does not imply becoming overly focused on food labels or, when visiting others, feeling disappointed when they have different eating habits. To counter the negativity spiral, rather than brooding over experiences and events beyond your control, you redirect your thoughts to events and experiences that are within your control, or to positive ones that can provide scaffolding to help prevent negativity. To establish healthy relationships, you look for character and value it, rather than being charmed by looks and other superficial features.

A balanced use of self-regulation also requires you to have a concrete goal, one that can ensure your self-regulation is adaptive, without harming you physically or cognitively. Losing weight in a healthy manner is one thing, but excessive exercising and an extremely controlled diet may make you ill. Excessive emotional control is associated with feelings of isolation. On the other hand, lack of self-regulation is associated with impulsive behavioral patterns, including smoking, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. Psychologically, a lack of self-regulation overwhelms us and we tend to make poor choices that often leave us with negative emotions, ruminations, and impulsivity (saying or doing things without thinking) that may offend others and harm our relationships.

  • Overuse of strength: inhibition, reticence

  • Underuse of strength: self-indulgence, impulsivity


A number of strengths work well with self-regulation to produce favorable behaviors and outcomes. Perhaps the most important is persistence, without which self-regulation is hardly possible. Likewise, prudence, fairness, authenticity, perspective, and courage can help you effectively self-regulate. Having the knowledge of a desirable behavior is not sufficient to make it happen; putting this knowledge into concrete action is important. To manage the hurdles in reaching your goal, you will need a healthy dose of optimism, creativity, and courage, along with self-regulation.


  • Twelve Years a Slave (2013)Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. He displays extraordinary strength of self-regulation and poise for 12 years, enduring abuse and cruelty, yet retaining his dignity.

  • Black Swan (2010)This psychological thriller shows the electrifying, and at times scary, journey of a young ballerina who displays an extreme sense of self-regulation and discipline to give a near-perfect performance.

  • The King’s Speech (2010)England’s Prince Albert ascends the throne as King George VI and has to overcome a severe speech impediment. The movie shows the king’s strengths of courage and self-regulation in learning to speak with confidence.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Eliminate objects of temptation: When dieting, don’t keep junk food around; when you want to spend time with others, turn off the television; when abstaining from alcohol, don’t socialize in bars or attend events with an open bar; when quitting smoking, replace cigarettes with chewing gum or another adaptive chewing item; or when cutting back on shopping, leave your credit cards or money at home. However, once a month, enjoy a (p. 310) yummy dessert, take a credit card with you, and so on. Otherwise, you may experience burnout. Ask others who you interact with to respect your removal of tempting items and to encourage your positive lifestyle changes.

  • List triggers: Make a list of situations that trigger intense emotions in you, when you automatically “lose it.” Write at least one strategy to neutralize these intense emotions. Keep these strategies accessible for use the next time you feel intense emotions.

  • Try to control your feelings: The next time you get upset, try to control your emotions and focus on positive attributes of the situation. Become aware of the degree to which you can control your feelings and reactions.

  • Create routines: Carefully create routines that you can systematically follow. These routines should be therapeutically helpful, such as going to bed at a regular time, exercising three times a week, and so on. Make minor adjustments as needed, but keep the core elements intact.

  • Engage in progressive relaxation when upset: When you get upset, do a progressive relaxation. Allow your upset thoughts to be interrupted momentarily so that they don’t get out of control.

  • Tolerate distress: List things that regularly upset you. Set a goal to gradually tolerate the distress, and, if you can, completely eliminate it. If you get upset by a certain colleague’s behavior, or when the subway is late and then very crowded, or when speaking in public, find ways to decrease this distress. Set specific, measurable goals to lower the distress. (Here are two examples: Avoiding a coworker you don’t like could adversely impact your work. So rather than avoiding her, set a goal of not focusing on her personal attributes and instead work with her on a small project you can do together. Or instead of always being annoyed by your teenage son because of the food, music, and attire he currently favors, focus on what you love about him, rather than on the things you don’t.)

  • Determine your optimal waking time: Pay close attention to your biological clock, and do your most important tasks when you are the most alert.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of self-regulation:

  • Judson Brewer: A simple way to break a bad habit

  • Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve

  • Michael Merzenich: Growing evidence of brain plasticity

  • Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep


Berger, A. (2011). Self-Regulation: Brain, Cognition, and Development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Find this resource:

Shanker, S. (2012). Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Toronto: Pearson.Find this resource:

Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.Find this resource:


Core Virtue: Transcendence

Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

20. Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence


Individuals with an appreciation of beauty feel a sense of awe at the scenes and patterns around them. If appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of your top strengths, you take pleasure in observing natural and physical beauty, you admire the skills and talents of other people, and you appreciate the beauty inherent in virtue and morality. You can find beauty in almost every area of life, from nature to the arts to mathematics to science to everyday experience. Observing and admiring natural and physical beauty and experiencing elevated feelings produce positive emotions, which from a therapeutic standpoint, counteract negative emotions. When we observe someone performing an act of courage or self-sacrifice, when a person exhibits composure in a stressful situation or is kind and compassionate, not only do we admire these actions, but sometimes we feel inspired to do the same. Thus, witnessing excellence motivates us to do something similar. This is an organic way of being motivated for positive action—instead of being steeped in the negative feelings associated with a number of psychological disorders.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of appreciation of beauty and moral excellence requires that we are sensitive and open to noticing, acknowledging, appreciating, and appraising positive experiences. This sensitivity can vary from person to person and can be culturally bound. (For example, you may experience awe while listening to Mozart’s opera Marriage of Figaro or to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, whereas someone else may experience awe when listing to classical Indian music or Georgian chants, or while watching dancers performing an Argentinian tango or Irish step dance.) Some life-altering events, such as birth and death, a miraculous and unexpected recovery, or a surprising and significant achievement, also have a cultural subtext. To fully appreciate the elevation and awe associated with such events, you need to understand that cultural context—both the macro level (the broader cultural norms, such as practices at Irish funerals) and the micro level (the funeral norms practiced by a specific Irish family). If you see someone moved at a social gathering and you are unable to comprehend it, politely asking the person to explain the importance will help you to understand the awe that is being experienced. Acts of moral courage that involve putting oneself in danger to save others, are more universally understood, even without knowing the language, and can be morally elevating. An artistic expression (e.g., music, dance, acting, painting) can also cultivate elevation as you witness a deeply moving performance. Such elevation can occur when you attend a concert or witness great art in a museum; it can also happen while watching or hearing something on popular media, through programs like America’s or Britain’s Got Talent, Idol Competitions, or Dancing with the Stars—all can leave us awe struck.

A balanced use of appreciation of beauty and excellence also entails that it is not exercised, expressed, or shared as snobbery, nor is it expressed with the intention of earning external recognition (p. 312) and rewards. A lack of appreciation of beauty and excellence may keep your daily life filled with boredom and lack of motivation, although such lack could be due to a number of factors, such as physical, cultural, or economic barriers.

  • Overuse of strength: snobbishness, pretentiousness

  • Underuse of strength: oblivion, unconsciousness


Appreciation of beauty integrates naturally with numerous strengths, such as creativity and gratitude. You are able to appreciate the creative nature of painting, sculpture, artistic performance, and so on. The very act of appreciation is a hallmark of gratitude. Appreciation almost always connects us with others—in person or virtually—thereby strengthening our social trust and sparking our inspiration, in particular, our moral elevation. This can occur when we see someone going out of her way to save a life, when a first-responder puts his life at risk to save others, or when we witness an exceptional artistic performance by someone unknown or not formally trained. This elevation infuses motivation, zest, and persistence in us to emulate what we have experienced at a deeper level.


  • Avatar (2009) –The human/Na’vi hybrids, called Avatars, connect with human minds to explore the beauty of Pandora because the environment is otherwise toxic to humans.

  • Out of Africa (1985)Karen Blixen goes to Africa from Denmark in order to start a coffee plantation. Amidst a dysfunctional marriage, she begins to appreciate the beauty of her surroundings.

  • The Color of Paradise (1999, Iran)The film centers on a visually impaired boy who explores beauty in nature through his remaining senses, with a dramatic and emotionally powerful ending.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Explore the fullness of your emotions: Become aware of your negative emotionswhen they surface, how they persist, and how they impact your behavior. At the same time, notice at least one instance of natural beauty around you every day (such as the sunrise, sunset, clouds, sunshine, snowfall, rainbows, trees, moving leaves, chirping birds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables). At the end of the day, critically appraise both the negative and positive emotions, and write about ways to increase the positive ones, especially when you feel distress.

  • Start projects that buffer against negativity: Think about and then select three projects to do that use creativity, persistence, and appreciation of beauty. Spend time on these projects instead of worrying, being anxious, or feeling stressed. Make sure each project really involves you, especially at times or in ways that buffer you from sliding into negativity.

  • Pay attention to expressions: Notice how other people appreciate beauty and excellence through specific words, expressions, gestures, and actions. See if you notice these individuals admiring aspects of life that you aren’t typically aware of. Incorporate that expression in your vocabulary.

  • Catalogue positive behaviors: Note weekly how the goodness of other people affects your life. Appreciate the beauty of positive human behavior. Catalogue it, review it weekly, and draw motivation to do something similar.

  • Reflect and write: Reflect on and write about three aspects of natural beauty, three instances of human creativity or artistic expression, and three experiences of seeing someone do something positive that you can identify with and see yourself doing.

  • Apply appreciation of beauty and gratitude to your close relationships: Applying this appreciation will likely replace negative feelings. In particular, if you have a slightly (p. 313) biased view or hold a grudge against someone, focusing on positives and genuinely admiring that person will reduce negativity and replace it with trust and intimacy.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of appreciation of beauty & excellence:

  • Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

  • Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

  • Mac Stone: Stunning photos of the endangered Everglades


Cold, B. (2001). Aesthetics, Well-Being, and Health: Essays within Architecture and Environmental Aesthetics. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Find this resource:

Murray, C. A. (2003). Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

Wariboko, N. (2009). The Principle of Excellence: A Framework for Social Ethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Find this resource:


21. Gratitude


Gratitude is an awareness of and thankfulness for the good things in one’s life. If gratitude is one of your top strengths, you take time to express thanks and contemplate all that you have been given in life. When you look back on your life, you don’t become paralyzed or preoccupied by negative memories; rather, you are likely to re-evaluate and reappraise your negative memories and extract meaning from them. You never take things for granted, and you express your gratitude to a specific person, to divinity, or simply to nature. Therefore, you generally view the world as more positive than negative, and this trust helps you extend the gratitude to others. In fact, gratitude is often “other-oriented.” That is, you express gratitude to someone, with someone, or for someone, and this process builds positive relationships. You are more likely to focus on positive aspects when relating with others.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of gratitude requires that you neither feel entitled to receive a positive outcome nor that you take any positive event or outcome for granted. A balanced and adaptive use of gratitude is generally not compatible with negative emotion. That is, when you are genuinely grateful, you don’t feel anger, bitterness, envy, greed, impoverished, or inferior/superior to others. An appropriate use of gratitude, in fact, thwarts such feelings. However, there are situations—such as becoming pregnant after trying for several years, only to learn that the child will likely have significant (p. 314) developmental delays; or the relief experienced at the end of an abusive relationship, the memories of which still bother you; or miraculously surviving an accident but losing mobility—that encapsulate multiple emotions, some positive, some negative.

Also, be mindful that if you effusively express gratitude for every little thing, the receiver of such gratitude may get used to this expression, may take it for granted, and may not acknowledge it appropriately. Others may feel uncomfortable with an elaborate and public expression of thanks. Therefore, it is important to understand the personal disposition and situational dynamics before expressing gratitude. On the other hand, not expressing gratitude when you should can give the impression that you have a sense of entitlement, or that you are too self-absorbed to take notice of positive things around you.

A sensible use of gratitude promotes a balanced self-image. You are happy with what you have and refrain from social comparisons. However, this doesn’t imply that you don’t strive and instead become complacent—but you don’t strive in relation to others or feel resentful at their progress and want to catch up. You find your own inner measures of competence.

  • Overuse of strength: ingratiation

  • Underuse of strength: entitlement, privilege


Gratitude works well with a number of strengths, such as kindness, love, and social and emotional intelligence, to help you be perceptive and sensitive to other’s needs and to express your care through actions. Gratitude also fosters savoring of positive experiences. You are able to exercise mindful attention to notice a positive event or experience and share it with others. Using your strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence, you also notice the positive events and attributes of others, and you genuinely share this feedback with them, thereby strengthening social ties. Like most positive emotions, gratitude opens your cognitive and attentional channels, allowing you to incorporate diverse and fresh perspectives in problem-solving and undertaking a creative endeavor. A balanced use of gratitude also inhibits social comparisons.

Gratitude helps us cope with stress and trauma. It fosters positive reinterpreting or reframing. After the initial shock, gratitude helps us evaluate what is most important in our lives. Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity, loss, or trauma might be hard and may seem irrelevant at the time. However, such expression may be the most important thing that you can do, as it may help you to adjust, cope, and grow. Another marker of the balanced application of gratitude is prosocial behavior; that is, gratitude promotes moral behavior. You become sensitive and caring about other’s needs and share your resources with them.


  • The Fault in Our Stars (2014)Two teenagers with cancer fall in love, rather miraculously. This movie is a reminder to be grateful for the love and beauty around us, as we may not be around forever to enjoy it.

  • Amélie (2001, France)Amélie approaches life with an inquisitive nature and an appreciation for the little things. She befriends a shut-in neighbor, plays pranks, and returns lost items to their owners.

  • Sunshine (1999)This epic film follows the lives of three generations of Jewish men living in Hungary. The movie ends with the grandson’s ultimate realization of his gratitude toward his family and his heritage, regardless of the pain of the past.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Cultivate gratitude: Simultaneous expression of gratitude and negative emotions is incompatible. In other words, if you are feeling grateful, it is highly unlikely that you also feel angry, ambivalent, stressed, or sad. Using the strategies that follow (p. 315) (e.g., express thanks, unlearn self-pity), cultivate gratitude on daily basis. The more you experience positive emotions, the less you will feel negative emotions, or the time you are stuck in negative emotions will decrease.

  • Express thanks: Express thanks to everyone who has contributed to your success, no matter how small such contribution might have been. Be aware of the degree to which your success is a product of others’ helpful influence in addition to your own hard work. Express thanks without just saying “thanks”—be more descriptive and specific (e.g., “I appreciate your prudent advice”). Closely observe how other people express gratitude.

  • Unlearn self-pity: Gratitude helps you appreciate what you have, what you have accomplished, and what resources and support you enjoy. This, in turn, makes you more confident and effective. This process can help you unlearn habits like self-pity and feeling victimized.

  • Deal with trauma: Gratitude also helps you cope with stress and trauma. It enables you to positively reinterpret or reframe events from the past that still bother you.

  • Practice daily gratitude: Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to savor a pleasant experience. Decide to withhold any conscious decisions during these ten minutes.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of gratitude:

  • David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful

  • Laura Trice: Remember to say thank you

  • Chip Conley: Measuring what makes life worthwhile


Emmons, R.A. (2007). THANKS! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.Find this resource:

Sacks, O. (2015). Gratitude (1st ed.). Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf.Find this resource:

Watkins, P. C. (2013). Gratitude and the Good Life: Toward a Psychology of Appreciation. Dordrecht: Springer.Find this resource:


22. Hope & Optimism


Hope and optimism is the expectation that good things will happen in the future. Although “hope” and “optimism” are sometimes used interchangeably, research has shown subtle differences. From a therapeutic standpoint, depression can develop when an individual explains the causes of failure (p. 316) in pessimistic terms, whereas an optimist looks at failure differently. For example, a person with depression might think that a single failure (a) is likely to ruin her entire life, (b) impacts every area of her life, and (c) persists forever. An optimist, on the other hand, will understand that (a) a single failure doesn’t mean that he will fail in every endeavor, (b) failure happens but it doesn’t last forever, and (c) failure doesn’t ruin everything in life. Likewise, if you are experiencing depressive symptoms, working on hope will help you boost your will and, at the same time, will provide you with specific strategies to harness your will or motivation into action. Hope and optimism can lead you to explore and expect the best from yourself.

The Golden Mean

A balanced use of hope and optimism requires that you don’t set unrealistic expectations or goals, especially if you are psychologically distressed. Start with realistic and achievable goals, particularly ones for which you have support.

One of the guiding principles of PPT is fundamentally believing in your own strengths, and your act of seeking help (i.e., engaging in PPT) is an act of hope and optimism. You have the courage to acknowledge that you need help, and you have made a very good start. In many ways, PPT is an effort to set personalized goals. Using your strengths, both you and your clinician can set goals that are meaningful for you, and together you will monitor progress as therapy progresses. The more realistic the goals, the faster your recovery and journey toward well-being will be. Celebrate as you accomplish each goal or part thereof.

For a balanced use of hope and optimism, it is important that you establish goals early in therapy because the odds of change in your symptoms are much higher in the first five weeks or sessions. If you fail to establish goals, or are too spontaneous in goal selection, you may lose your motivation to change, and, over time, your symptoms may worsen. Writing about a positive future version of yourself (see Session Four: A Better Version of Me) will also likely help you set and revise realistic goals. Lastly, hope and optimism should also be viewed within the cultural context.

  • Overuse of strength: Panglossian outlook

  • Underuse of strength: pessimism, despair


A number of strengths can meld with hope and optimism to offer optimal therapeutic benefits. For example, turning hope and optimism into goals is important, and you need strengths like courage and persistence to accomplish these goals. Optimism, in particular, needs a good dose of courage and zest because sometimes we really want to do something but our inner critic and criticism from others derail our progress. We may not believe in our strengths and pay more attention to our deficits.


  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)—This is the remarkable tale of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French editor, who suffered a stroke and became paralyzed; his only way of communicating with the outside world was by blinking one eye. His hope and optimism helped him learn to speak through his seemingly irrelevant gestures, and he began to produce words.

  • Cinderella Man (2005)During the depths of the Great Depression, legendary athlete Jim Braddock—a once-promising light heavyweight boxer—uses his hope and optimism to find his way back into the ring and pull off a surprising third-round win.

  • Gone with the Wind (1939)Scarlett O’Hara is living during the tumultuous years of the Civil War in a society torn by every sort of strife. In addition, she must contend with the trials of unrequited love and romantic frustration. In spite of all these obstacles, Scarlett maintains her sense of hope and continues to strive toward a better future for herself.

  • (p. 317) Good Will Hunting (1997)Will Hunting, a janitor at MIT, has a gift for mathematics. To deal with his difficult past and articulate his sense of hope and optimism, he needs the good counsel of a compassionate therapist who believes in him.

Therapeutic Actions

  • Apply optimism and hope: List three things that deplete your hope and optimism. Using the ideas and strengths discussed earlier, apply hope and optimism to decrease your distress.

  • Cultivate optimistic company: Surround yourself with optimistic and future-minded friends, particularly when you are facing a setback. Accept their encouragement and help, and let them know that you will be there for them when they face obstacles.

  • Succeed after struggle: Recall a situation in which you—or someone close to you—successfully overcame a difficult obstacle. Remember this precedent if you are faced with a similar situation in the future.

  • Visualize your life: Reflect on where and what you want to be in 1, 5, and 10 years. Sketch a pathway that you can follow to get there. Include manageable steps and ways to chart your progress.

  • Tackling adversity: When facing adversity, focus on how you overcame a similar situation in the past. Let your successes set the precedent for your future endeavors.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of hope & optimism:

  • Tali Sharot: The optimism bias

  • Martin Seligman: The new era of positive psychology

  • Douglas Beal: An alternative to GDP that encompasses our well-being

  • Laura Carstensen: Older people are happier

  • Carlos Morales Finds Hope After Tragedy While Raising Quadruplets on His Own


Gillham, J. (2000). The Science of Optimism and Hope: West Conshohocken, PA, Templeton Press.Find this resource:

Seligman, M. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Vintage Books.Find this resource:

Tali Sharot, T. (2011). The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain. Toronto: Knopf.Find this resource:

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here. New York: Free Press.Find this resource:

Seligman, M. (2018). The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. New York: Hachette Book Group.Find this resource:


(p. 318) 23. Humor & Playfulness


Humor involves an enjoyment of laughing, friendly teasing, and bringing happiness to others. As an integral part of social play, humor offers us a different perspective. If humor and playfulness is one of your top strengths, you know how to take the edge off a stressful situation while maintaining group cohesion. From a therapeutic standpoint, humor offers a viable way to release negative emotions. With this strength, you are able to see the lighter side of life for many situations, finding things to be cheerful about rather than letting adversity get you down. Humor means more than just telling jokes; rather, humor is a playful and imaginative approach to life.

The Golden Mean

Too much humor can make you look like a fool, whereas a severe lack of this strength can make you too serious and boring. A balanced use of humor and playfulness, although not easy, is very desirable. Without sacrificing empathy and cultural sensitivity, a well-delivered joke, quick retort, observation, or comment can offer a fresh and different perspective, and can expand your thinking and improve your sense of self. Context, however, is crucial in using humor and playfulness. For example, in situations that may benefit from a little burst of humor with a quick shift to serious deliberations, overusing humor can give the impression that you are not being serious, and hence are unreliable. On the other hand, a serious tone and stoic expression that cannot be penetrated by a quick joke or light-hearted comment can isolate you from others and keep them from freely sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.

  • Overuse of strength: buffoon-like, clown-like

  • Underuse of strength: cheerlessness, grimness


A number of strengths can help harness playfulness, such as social intelligence, zest, curiosity, teamwork, kindness, authenticity, and fairness. If a playful remark, joke, or anecdote is shared mindfully, it can amiably relieve a stressful situation without offending others and offer a new perspective. Note that a balanced and adaptive use of humor and playfulness requires that this joke or funny story be relevant, engaging, and culturally sensitive.


  • Patch Adams (1999)Patch Adams commits himself to a psychiatric ward and finds joy in helping his fellow patients. Disturbed by the staff’s cold approach to the patients, he vows to change the system and enrolls in medical school. His unorthodox blend of medicine and humor brings him both praise and at times condemnation.

  • Life is Beautiful (1998, Italy)Guido, a charming Jewish man, never loses his cleverness, hope, or humor, especially in protecting his young son from the horrors of the Holocaust by pretending the whole affair is a game.

  • Amadeus (1984)This film depicts the humor and laughter of young Mozart, who in addition to his creativity and perseverance shows his lighter side when engaging in practical jokes.

(p. 319) Therapeutic Actions

  • Use cognitively distracting humor: If you feel stressed, depressed, or angry, create a playlist of funny YouTube or other online videos. Make sure the content engages you so that you are disengaged from negative emotions. Keep the list updated.

  • Cheer up a gloomy friend: Cheer up someone whose likes and dislikes you know well. This will also help you in dealing with your own distresses.

  • Befriend someone who is funny: Become friends with someone who has a great sense of humor. Watch how he or she uses this strength to deal with difficult situations and bad news.

  • Look for the lighter side of a serious situation: When something serious happens, try to find a fun and lighter side to the situation. Strike a balance between taking things seriously enough and not taking them too seriously.

  • Engage in outdoor fun: Go out with your friends at least once a month to run, hike, cross-country ski, bike, and so on. Note how the group dynamic improves when you laugh together.

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of humor & playfulness:

  • Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life

  • Liza Donnelly: Drawing on humor for change

  • John Hunter: Teaching with the World Peace Game

  • Cosmin Mihaiu: Physical therapy is boring—play a game instead

  • Ze Frank: Nerdcore comedy


Akhtar, M. C. (2011). Play and Playfulness: Developmental, Cultural, and Clinical Aspects. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson.Find this resource:

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Press.Find this resource:

Schaefer, C. E. (2003). Play Therapy with Adults. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Find this resource:

Russ, S. W., & Niec, L. N. (2011). Play in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Approaches. New York: Guilford Press.Find this resource:


(p. 320) 24. Spirituality


Spirituality is a universal part of human experience involving knowledge of one’s place within the larger scheme of things. Spirituality can include—but is not limited to—religious belief and practice. With the help of this strength, you become aware of both the sacred and secular in everyday life. This is a strength that offers you a sense of comfort in the face of adversity and the experience of transcending the ordinary to reach something fundamental. You feel the comfort that there is someone or something greater than you, a force to rely on. Having a sense of spirituality offers you emotional support that you can handle adversity. To enhance your sense of spirituality, you take specific actions that generally follow established spiritual or religious norms. While following these actions, you feel that your life has meaning.

The Golden Mean

A balanced sense of spirituality indicates that your life is imbued with meaning and purpose, although the meaning and purpose do not have to be grand and earth-shattering. A balanced use of spirituality, meaning, and purpose can be accomplished through tangible prosocial activities, such as volunteering at a food bank, a center for children with disabilities, or a home for senior citizens. Becoming involved with a religious institution (such as a church, mosque, or temple), professional association, leisure or sports club, non-profit organization, environmental task force, or humanitarian group all offer opportunities to connect with something larger. Regardless of the particular way in which you establish a spiritual and meaningful life, ensure that the aim or meaning is always clear. There are multiple paths to spirituality. Each path could lead you to something greater than yourself—your purpose. Before embarking on any path, reflect on where and to what end this path will bring you. A total lack of spirituality, meaning, and purpose could leave you feeling empty, unfulfilled, and existentially anxious about the aimlessness of your life.

  • Overuse of strength: fanaticism, radicalism

  • Underuse of strength: anomie, isolation


A number of strengths integrate naturally with spirituality, including gratitude, self-regulation, persistence, authenticity, appreciation of beauty, and hope. In addition to specific strengths, a number of strengths-based actions can offer you soothing and satisfying experiences of spirituality. These include mentoring, going on a retreat with your partner or close friend, meditating or praying together or sharing the same space, and periodically reviewing your life to reflect on its meaning and how your actions and habits are congruent with this meaning.


  • Contact (1997)Dr. Eleanor Arroway, a scientist working on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, discovers a signal from a faraway star. This discovery throws society into turmoil as the age-old conflict erupts between reason and belief.

  • Priest (1994, Britain)Fr. Greg Plinkington lives two lives, one as a conservative Catholic priest and the other as a gay man with a lover. When a girl in his confessional tells him about sexual abuse at the hands of her father, his frustration with the laws of the Catholic Church boils over, and he must reconcile his inner beliefs with the tenets of his doctrinal faith.

  • Eat Pray Love (2010)Despite having a home and successful career, Liz’s divorce leaves her confused and at a crossroads. She ventures out on a quest of self-discovery and travels (p. 321) to different places in the world, where she steps out of her comfort zone to learn more about herself.

Therapeutic Actions

  • List experiences that make you feel detached and ones that forge connections: Make a weekly or monthly list of experiences that leave you feeling fragmented, distracted, and detached. Next to each such experience, write about a potential experience that would forge strong connections in your life.

  • Fine-tune your quest: If you find yourself steeped in negative feelings (such as sadness, stress, or anger), deliberately immerse yourself in nature, art, music, poetry, or literature that instills a sense of awe and wonder in you. Gradually fine-tune your awareness. These experiences can connect you with your spiritual quest.

  • Practice relaxation: Spend 10 minutes daily breathing deeply, relaxing, and meditating (emptying the mind of thoughts by focusing on breathing). Observe how you feel afterward.

  • Explore different religions: Take a class, do online research, meet someone from a different religion, or attend a congregation of a different religion. Speak to people who practice this faith, and get to know them as people.

  • Explore your purpose: If you feel lost, ambivalent, or empty, explore a fundamental purpose of your life, and link your actions to this purpose. Each day, ask yourself if you accomplished anything toward fulfilling this purpose.

  • Write your own eulogy: Write your eulogy or ask your loved ones how they would like to remember you. Do they mention your signature strengths?

Exemplars (TED Talks)

Visit and search for the following talks to hear from individuals who represent the strength of spirituality:

  • Lesley Hazleton: On reading the Koran

  • Dan Dennett: Let’s teach religion—all religion—in schools

  • Julia Sweeney: Letting go of God

  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question)


Aslan, R. (2017). God: A Human History. New York: Random House.Find this resource:

Newberg, A., & Waldman, M. R. (2006). Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth. New York: Free Press.Find this resource:

Valliant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: How We Are Wired for Faith, Hope, and Love. New York: Broadway.Find this resource:


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