Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.

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Your character strengths

posted on
January 26th, 2013


You can achieve more success by fully leveraging your strengths than by shoring up your weaknesses.

Spend twenty minutes to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the Authentic Happiness site.

Find opportunities to apply your strengths in everything you do. You’ll be happier.

Do it. It works.

Christoper Peterson

chris petersonChristopher Peterson, the godfather of personal strengths research, died this month, leaving behind a treasure trove of findings and insights.

ippaA special issue of the IPPA Newsletter is dedicated to his memory. Excerpts:

Chris deems character strengths as the foundation of humanity, and strength-congruent activity as a key route to the good life.

Peterson defines character as “a family of individual differences…distinct strengths that people possess to varying degrees.” He states that character is malleable, measurable and subject to numerous influences.

When speaking with Chris, he always seemed to shift the attention to me, making me feel not only that I had something to learn from him, but also that he had something to learn from me.

Like Aristotle, Peterson asserts that we can cultivate character. But there are no shortcuts. Only through regular practice can we make sustainable changes, create new habits, and improve our happiness. However, in order to mark our progress, we must be able to measure our character.

Peterson’s Values in Action (VIA) Classification is a conceptual and empirical tool that features explicit criteria for twenty-four universal character strengths. It is in the philosophical tradition of virtue ethics by emphasizing the moral excellence of the individual.

Once we become aware of our top strengths (dubbed “signature strengths”), we can craft interventions and apply them to our daily lives to further build good character and increase thriving. If love, gratitude, zest, and hope don’t already rank among our top strengths Peterson recommends we practice these strengths as well because they are most highly correlated with flourishing.

Peterson refers to personality as “the story we tell about ourselves” and asserts, “all too often, redemption is the narrative we tell.” He suggests we change that by looking at our lives as a story of triumph and strengths. As William James argued, by shifting our attention we have the potential to create healthy habits, cultivate character, and improve happiness. So, why not focus on the good and celebrate our strengths?

Asked for useful tips, Chris said “Be mindful of what I call strengths occasions, and rise to them. Also, practice, practice, practice.”

Marty Seligman on applying your strengths and increasing Flow:

Latest research

In the Newsletter, Ryan Niemic provides a research update on character strengths.

The character strengths:

Wisdom and Knowledge – Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

Courage – Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

Humanity – Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others

Justice – Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life

Temperance – Strengths that protect against excess

Transcendence – Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

Character strengths and business

The book


The front-end of Chris Peterson’s seminal book (2004), co-authored with Marty Seligman, is online. If you are hungry for scientific backup, an explanation of where these strengths come from, moral issues, Biblical references, other religions, previous studies, and Howard Gardner, get a copy. Here is the companion web site. The site has lots of interesting findings, for instance:

Individuals who use their character strengths experienced greater well-being, which was related to both physical and mental health. Strengths use was a unique predictor of subjective well-being after self-esteem and self-efficacy were controlled for (Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2009).

More research findings

Jay’s experience

jayWhatever I do must play to at least my top five Character Strengths. Otherwise, I won’t do it.

The things on this list, and their sequence, haven’t changed much over the years. The top three are always the top 3.

Here are all my strengths — and weaknesses — in order, from taking the 2012 VIA Strengths Survey. 2003 ranks are in parentheses. The top five are spot on. Red indicates “not me at all” — my “unmotivated skills.” Text following “|” is how I identify with each item.

Creativity, ingenuity, and originality (1) 99th percentile
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible. | My hallmark.

Curiosity and interest in the world (2) 99th percentile
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery. | Yes, yes, yes.

Love of learning (3) 99th percentile
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn. | Not school, but reading and museums.

Bravery and valor (4) 97th percentile
You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions. | True.

Humor and playfulness (6)
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations. | Yes, although people often don’t get my jokes.

Perspective (wisdom) (7).
Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself. | This feels right.

Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness (9)
Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind. | Yes, I change my mind about things. Some question how solid my evidence is.

Zest, enthusiasm, and energy (5)
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure. | This is true.

Appreciation of beauty and excellence (8)
You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience. | Yes.

Gratitude (12)
You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks. | Not naturally. I have to work on this.

Kindness and generosity (16)
You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well. | Yes, I help individuals where I can.

Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty (14)
You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group. | No, I am more often a loner, not a team player.

Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness (18)
You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a “real” person. | I try.

Leadership (13)
You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen. | My work history disagrees.

Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness (15)
You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control. | Somewhat. All one level, we are all but pebbles in a stream.

Social intelligence (19)
You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease. | No, I am often totally blind to this. Lots of people misread me and vice-versa. A decided weakness.

Capacity to love and be loved (10)
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you. | Can’t evaluate. I love a number of people. I’m neutral toward most.

Fairness, equity, and justice (20)
Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance. | No, I am more elitist than this.

Forgiveness and mercy (17)
You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge. | Not always. I don’t work with assholes or toxic personalities.

Self-control and self-regulation (21)
You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa. | Disciplined? Not hardly. I can blow off a month or two without realizing it.

Caution, prudence, and discretion (22)
You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret. | No, not me at all. I take stupid risks and often color outside the lines.

Industry, diligence, and perseverance (11)
You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks. | No. I am easily distracted. I’ve started many personal projects that never made it to the finish line. I keep customer commitments but not personal ones.

Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith (23)
You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you. | No, I am a-spiritual, a non-believer, a skeptic of the first order.

Modesty and humility (24)
You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty. | This is not me. I am a braggart and self-promoter.

My calling is to make at least a million people in business happier. More information.

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