While often simplified as “grit” or “self-control,” character is more than simply individual achievement or a person’s behavior. It is a broad and complex family of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are recognized and encouraged across cultures for the values they cultivate in people and society. Character is the aggregate of who we are; it’s “what’s inside every one of us.”
Dr. Chris Peterson led a 40-person team, over a three-year period, to better understand character and its manifestations. Alongside Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. Peterson then wrote an 800-page book on the research called Character Strengths and Virtues. This book explains that:
- 24 character strengths that are evident in the most widely influential traditions of thought in human history.
- Robust evidence of all 24 strengths existing throughout time and in all cultures of the world.
- All 24 character strengths exist in every individual.
Ranging from bravery and forgiveness to integrity and gratitude, these character strengths are the foundation of The Positivity Project’s model.
Making children aware that every one of them has all 24 character strengths, provides the foundation for genuine self-confidence grounded in self-awareness. At the same time, it helps children better understand why everyone is different and how to appreciate those differences. Unlike our height, weight, or skin color, character is something that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Therefore, understanding and valuing it — especially in other people — requires a framework of consistent reflection and discussion.
Character strengths aren’t about ignoring the negative. Instead, they help us overcome life’s inevitable adversities. For example, you can’t be brave without first feeling fear; you can’t show perseverance without first wanting to quit; you can’t show self-control without first being tempted to do something you know you shouldn’t.
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
You notice and value the world’s beauty and people’s skills. You don’t take things for granted.
You act with mental, moral, or physical strength even when you know things are difficult or scary.
You come up with new and original ways to think about and do things.
You like exploration and discovery. You ask lots of questions because you want to learn more about anything and everything.
You approach life with excitement and energy. You energize people around you.
You believe that all people have value. You approach situations with an unbiased mindset and treat everyone with respect.
You forgive those who have done wrong. You accept that people make mistakes.
You are aware of and thankful for good things that happen.
You do not seek the spotlight. You let your actions speak for themselves.
You like to laugh and bring smiles to other people.
You are honest and speak the truth. You present yourself genuinely and sincerely.
You are generous to others and you are never too busy to help out. You enjoy doing good deeds for other people.
You value each member of your group and inspire people to do their best.
You value close relationships with others and being close to people.
Love of Learning
You master new skills and topics on your own or in school.
You like to consider new ideas and try new things. You examine things from all sides and don’t jump to conclusions.
You expect the best from the future and work to achieve it.
You complete what you start despite obstacles. You never give up.
You appreciate that people see things in different
ways. You have the ability to understand the world
from multiple points of view.
You plan for the future and achieve your goals by making careful everyday choices.
You have beliefs about the meaning of life and your life’s purpose. You seek to be part of something greater than yourself.
You have the ability to control your emotions and behaviors. You think before you act.
You are aware of other people’s thoughts and feelings. You understand why they do things.
You work well as a member of a group or team. You are loyal, reliable, and dedicated to helping your team achieve its goals.
Source: Peterson and Seligman, 2004
Positive psychology is a rigorous academic field that encompasses character strengths, positive relationships, positive experiences, and positive institutions. It is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living – and maintains that what is good in life is as genuine as what is bad.
Although positive psychology focuses on what goes right in life, it doesn’t ignore what goes wrong. As Drs. Peterson and Seligman wrote in Character Strengths and Virtues, “There is a temptation to regard positive psychology as focusing on the stress-free individual, but this is a mistake… In accentuating the positive, we cannot ignore the negative. Conditions of adversity, whether external or internal, must be part of what we address in discussing character strengths.”