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 took a three-year sabbatical 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 — and every other person — has all 24 character strengths, provides the foundation for genuine self-confidence. More importantly, 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.
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.”