Find New Ways to Happiness by Using Your Character StrengthsNone By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D.
Need a happiness boost? Discover your signature strengths and use them in a new way each day. Research has found this intervention gives a boost to happiness and a decrease to depression, with some studies finding effects lasting up to six months.
Below are examples of how this intervention might be applied with each of the 24 universal, character strengths of the VIA Classification.
I created a Pinterest board that provides images for many of these “new ways,” including at least one image for each strength.
After you take the VIA Survey, consider one of the following ideas with one of your signature strengths:
1. Think of one of your problems and two possible solutions.
2. Present the solutions non-verbally as an act or mime to someone.
3. Turn an inanimate object (e.g., like paperclips, toothpicks) into something meaningful.
1. Try a new food for the first time, preferably from a culture different than your own.
2. Take a different route home and explore a new area or neighborhood.
Judgment (Critical Thinking)
1. Watch a political program from the opposite point of view of your own, and keep an open mind.
2. Ask one or two clarifying questions of someone who has a different approach to life or different beliefs than you (e.g., a vegetarian).
Love of Learning
1. Read some of the original works of Gandhi online.
2. Consider your favorite subject matter. Do an Internet search and surprise yourself by discovering something new about the topic.
1. For one of your interactions today: First, listen closely. Second, share your ideas and thoughts.
2. Consider the wisest quotation you have come across. Think of one way you can live more true to that quote.
1. Take on a new adventure or hobby that fits with one of your areas of interest.
2. Consider one of your personal fears. Take one small, healthy action toward facing it right now.
1. Complete a small project that you have been putting off.
2. Set a new goal today, list two potential obstacles that may come up, and ways that you will overcome them.
1. Write a poem that expresses an inner truth.
2. Contact a family member or friend whom you have told a “partial” truth and give them the complete details.
1. Exert your energy in a unique way—jump on a bed, run in place, practice yoga or body stretching, or chase around a child or pet.
2. Express your energy through an outfit, pair of shoes, and/or accessories that are striking and colorful.
1. Surprise somebody with a small gift that shows you care (e.g., flowers, a Starbucks coffee).
2. Tell someone about a strength you saw them use and how much you value it. Words of affirmation are a powerful, verbal force for the expression of love.
1. Put coins in someone’s parking meter that has run out of money.
2. Stop by a hospital or nursing home and offer to visit with someone who is lonely.
1. Start up a conversation with someone whom you normally would not say much more to than typical pleasantries. This person might be the woman at the checkout counter, a telemarketer, or a new employee.
2. Express a feeling of frustration, disappointment, or nervousness in a healthy, direct way that someone can easily understand.
1. Spot and express appreciation for the strengths expressed by your team members.
2. Savor a positive team interaction from the past by replaying it in your mind; share it at a team meeting.
1. Look for beings (e.g., people, animals) that are cast aside or typically held in disgust and go out of your way to treat them right.
2. Include someone in a conversation who is typically excluded from groups or is a newcomer.
1. Discuss with someone who reports to you about how they can align their top character strength more in their work.
2. Gather and lead a group to help support a cause you believe in.
1. Let go of a minor irritant or a grudge.
2. Give yourself permission to make a mistake.
1. Consider an interaction that typically involves you doing more talking/sharing and flip it to where the other person talks/shares more.
2. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on your struggles and growth areas.
1. Before you make a decision that is typically very easy, take one full minute to think about it before you take action.
2. Write down your plans for each hour of the remainder of the day, no matter how trivial.
1. The next time you feel irritated or nervous today, pause and breathe with the experience for a count of 10 breaths.
2. Monitor all the food and drinks you put in your body. Write it down on a tracking sheet.
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
1. Go outside and stand still in a beautiful environment for 20 minutes.
2. Listen to a song or piece of music that is viewed as extraordinary; allow yourself to marvel at the talent that went into producing it.
1. Tell someone “thanks” who deserves it and is typically not recognized.
2. Share your appreciation on a Post-It Note that you put on someone’s desk as a surprise or send it in a spontaneous e-mail.
1. Consider a problem or struggle you are having. Write down two optimistic, realistic thoughts that bring comfort.
2. Watch a movie that promotes a message of hope and think about how the message applies to your life.
1. Do something spontaneous and playful around another person (e.g., saying something silly, contorting your body in a weird way, or telling a funny story or joke).
2. Watch a classic comedy show you haven’t seen before and laugh as much as possible.
1. Read about a religion/spirituality different from your own and look for ways in which the core messages parallel one another.
2. Contemplate the “sacredness” of this present moment. Allow yourself to find meaning in the moment.
Remember: the intervention shown to be effective is using a top strength in a new way every day (for a week) so these ideas will just get you started. You might need to use creativity and curiosity to create other new ways or you might put a twist on one of the above suggestions (e.g., the activity “surprise somebody with a small gift” might be used with different people in your life).
For more ideas, see my blog post that offer a road map for character strengths use. The action verbs—reflect, observe, appreciate, discuss, monitor, ask, and plan—can provide an endless array of options for you to use your signature strengths in new ways.
Want to build your character strengths and awaken your full potential? Take Ryan's 4-week track on Happify!
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.
This article originally appeared on PsychCentral and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
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