Before you begin, we invite you to find your character strengths using The VIA Character Strengths Survey.*
*NOTE: The Positivity Project is not affiliated with the VIA Institute. However, we strongly encourage teachers to take the VIA Character Strengths Survey as part of their introduction to The Positivity Project. That’s because the survey, initially developed with Dr. Chris Peterson’s leadership, helps teachers know themselves better — and internalize the character strengths vocabulary and concepts. To learn more, please visit our VIA Survey FAQs.
Table of Contents
- Character Strengths Overview
- What Is Character?
- Difference Between Character Strengths and Values
- What Is Positive Psychology?
- Positive Psychology’s Six Virtues
- Positive Psychology’s 24 Character Strengths
- Definitions with Examples Of Character Strengths
- Character Strength Cards
Character Strengths Overview
Character strengths — as classified by positive psychology — are a family of positive traits expressed through a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are universally recognized for the strength that they create in individuals and communities.
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 strengths aren’t something that can be seen with the naked eye. Therefore, understanding and valuing them — especially in other people — requires a framework of consistent reflection and discussion.
By consistently teaching our youth about the character strengths that everyone possesses, they will see people based on the content of their character. This ability will enhance their self-awareness and self-confidence, understanding and appreciation of others, and interpersonal relationships — which will positively influence our youth (individually and collectively) across their lifespans.
Ranging from bravery and creativity to integrity and gratitude, positive psychology’s 24 character strengths are the foundation of The Positivity Project’s model.
Dr. Chris Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology, led a research team over a three-year period to better understand character and its manifestations. Alongside Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. Peterson then wrote Character Strengths and Virtues. The research in this book explains:
- The 24 character strengths that are evident in the most widely influential traditions of thought in human history.
- The robust evidence of all 24 strengths existing throughout time and in all cultures of the world.
- All 24 character strengths exist within — and can be used by — every individual.
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.
What is Character?
Character is more than simply individual achievement. It’s the intersection of our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. Character is the aggregate of who we are; it’s “what’s inside every one of us.”
Character is not fixed; it can be grown. This is very similar to Dr. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. Dweck’s theory explains that some people think their abilities are fixed and that any failure is a confirmation of their limits. While other people believe that they can grow their abilities and that failure is just a stepping stone to improvement.
Well, character works the same way. And, there is no endpoint to developing your character. It’s a lifelong endeavor for every single one of us.
Difference Between Character Strengths and Values
Are character strengths the same as values? Not necessarily. As Dr. Peterson explains in A Primer in Positive Psychology, “Values are beliefs held by individuals and shared by groups about desirable ends…they guide how we select actions and evaluate others and ourselves; and they are ordered by their relative importance.” Individuals can use their character strengths to move towards their specific values.
For example, the core values of the United States Military Academy at West Point are Duty, Honor, Country. Cadets will use their individual character strengths — such as perseverance, teamwork, and self-control — to move towards those values. As General MacArthur explained to cadets in 1962, “Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
What Is Positive Psychology?
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.”
Positive Psychology’s Six Virtues
Virtues are core aspects of human excellence that allow us to survive and thrive. Researchers found six core virtues to be ubiquitous across cultures. The 24 character strengths are organized under the six virtues of: wisdom and knowledge; humanity; justice; courage; temperance; and transcendence.
- Wisdom and Knowledge – Strengths of wisdom and knowledge are cognitive strengths related to the acquisition and use of information. Strengths comprised in this virtue are creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, and perspective.
- Humanity – Strengths of humanity involve caring interpersonal relationships with others, particularly in one-to-one relationships. Strengths comprised in this virtue are love, kindness, and social intelligence.
- Justice – Strengths of justice refer to the optimal relationship between the individual and the group or community, rather than the more one-to-one relationships in the humanity virtue. Strengths comprised in this virtue are teamwork, fairness, and leadership.
- Courage – Strengths of courage involve applying will and fortitude in overcoming internal or external resistance to accomplish goals. Strengths comprised in this virtue are bravery, perseverance, integrity, and enthusiasm.
- Temperance – Strengths of temperance protect us from excess. Strengths comprised in this virtue are forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control.
- Transcendence – Strengths of transcendence allow people to rise above their troubles and find meaning in the larger universe. Strengths of transcendence are appreciation of beauty and excellence, purpose, gratitude, optimism, and humor.
Positive Psychology’s 24 Character Strengths
Character Strength Definitions
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.
P2 Character Cards (1-Page Overviews)
Our 9–12 grade P2 Character Cards are a completely open (public) resource. P2 Character Cards provide a 1-page, detailed look at each character strength. These cards are available as weblinks and as PDF downloads from our searchable/sortable Resource Library. You can directly link any of these cards right into Google Classroom or send home links directly. Differentiated versions (Pre-K–2, 3–5, 6–8) are also available to Partner Schools. Many teachers use our differentiated Character Cards (regularly in the classroom), and we can’t overstate the value that we see in Partner Schools sending these home with students and parents.
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