Before you begin learning about character strengths, we invite you to learn more about your personal strengths using The Positivity Project’s Character Strength Snapshot Survey. This concise assessment is designed to provide individuals with a quick understanding of their personal character strength profile. While it is important to note that this survey has not undergone academic validation, it will serve as a valuable starting point for individuals interested in exploring their character strengths.
*Please note that The Positivity Project does not collect any personally identifiable information, psychometrics, or student data through these surveys.
If you’re looking for an academically validated survey, you can take The VIA Character Strengths Survey.*
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
- Why Focus on Character Strengths in School — and Why ALL 24?
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.
And, as Dr. Peterson wrote, focusing on character strengths “would not only make young people happier, healthier, and more socially connected but also help them do better at school and to be more productive at their eventual work. Attention to young people’s character is not a luxury for our society but a necessity, and it requires no tradeoff with traditional academic goals.”
Difference Between Character Strengths and Values
Are character strengths the same as values? Not necessarily. Character strengths are positive personality traits that reflect our basic identity — and produce positive outcomes for ourselves and others. However, 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.” Therefore, individuals use their character strengths to move toward 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.
Why Focus on Character Strengths at School?
Dr. Peterson explained that focusing on character strengths “would not only make young people happier, healthier, and more socially connected but also help them do better at school and to be more productive at their eventual work. Attention to young people’s character is not a luxury for our society but a necessity, and it requires no tradeoff with traditional academic goals.”
P2 Partner Schools consistently teach students about the character strengths that everyone possesses. This helps students become more self-aware and empathetic – leading to more positive relationships and a more positive school culture. This positive culture allows teachers to focus on teaching and students to focus on learning.
As one educator explained, “I can honestly say I have never felt so good about a character education program in my teaching career. I can actually see this program working every day. Each week that we touch on new strengths, we are all reminded of our potential to be better human beings. We have truly seen a transformation in our program since we began using The Positivity Project…We have watched kids transform again and again, from disrespectful to respectful, from challenging to cooperative, and from ungrateful to grateful, just by modeling appropriate behavior, sharing learning experiences, and using character strengths to build relationships.”
Why ALL 24 Character Strengths?
Sometimes people ask, “Why are you focused on ALL 24 character strengths? Why not just 6 or 10?” That’s a good question. The answer is that The Positivity Project’s model is grounded in the research of positive psychology’s character strengths. And that research clearly shows that “All 24 Matter.” As Dr. Ryan Niemac explains, “the importance of any given strength will vary by the situation or the intended consequence…[and] how they matter will vary by person and situation.”
So, if we want students to be equipped to consciously leverage the strengths they’ll need throughout their lives in a variety of situations, they must learn about all 24. This also makes P2 more applicable to every student. Some students may identify more with optimism and enthusiasm, while others may identify more with humility and prudence. Every single one of the character strengths is important — and the 24 character strengths provide a broad common vocabulary for classrooms, schools, and districts.
As Dr. Peterson summarizes, understanding all 24 “provides a useful vocabulary for people to talk about character strengths in an appropriately nuanced way. Simply saying that someone has good character (or not) does not lead to anywhere useful. In contrast, using the strengths concepts…people can describe the profile of strengths that characterize each individual.”
Why does P2 emphasize consistency?
Our model is holistic and rooted in consistency; it incorporates and impacts students, educators, and families through regular interaction with character strengths vocabulary and concepts. Our emphasis on consistency is grounded in research from child psychology and neuroscience.
To most effectively learn a new word, concept, or skill, students should be exposed to a combination of active learning (pair-sharing, building, discussing, drawing), passive learning (listening, watching, generalizing), and settling time (walking, reflecting, sleeping, eating). It’s important to spread out the learning to maximize consolidation – the physical process of turning electrical and chemical input into a memory (Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Revised 2nd Edition, 39-43).
This consistency is why 8th grade students at J.M. McKenney Middle School say things like, “Perseverance and Perspective have been major strengths that helped me handle social and educational challenges. Being reminded that things will pass and that I have the ability to grow and learn from them have been incredibly helpful.”
Dr. Chris Peterson explained, “Theorists as far back as Aristotle argued that virtue is the product of habitual action. One-shot positive psychology interventions can probably jump-start the process, but only sustained practice will make changes permanent.”
Are These Words “Over Students’ Heads”?
Another question people ask is, “Aren’t some of these character strengths over students’ heads?” Simply stated, they’re not. P2’s grade-level differentiated resources provide scaffolded definitions, examples, and activities to help students understand and apply character strengths in their lives.
As one English Language Learning teacher explained, “Ms. Saleh asked her students, ‘What is another character strength this person is showing?’ and the responses were incredibly intuitive! Kindergarten students were raising their hands and using the words “Integrity,” “Perseverance,” and “Gratitude”…Ms. Saleh’s students use these words with such tenacity and it seems so natural to them…If these character strengths are in their vernacular as kindergartners… imagine how their knowledge will deepen and experiences building positive relationships will flourish.”
As another teacher highlights, her students were able to use their command of character strengths to teach a local baseball coach about the concept of prudence in athletics.