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How can you become a whole, complete, or what psychologist Abraham Maslow called, self-actualized, person?
According to Simply Psychology, self-actualization is “the complete realization of one’s potential as manifest in peak experiences which involve the full development of one’s abilities and appreciation for life.”
I guess maybe today it’s what people often refer to as “living authentically.”
To do that, we need to take a look at how we think, feel, and act—which all impact each other. Our thoughts impact our feelings and actions, our feelings impact our thoughts and behaviour, and our actions impact our feelings and thoughts). Positive Psychology can help us by taking a look at our character—specifically our character strengths.
First of all, what are character strengths? Character strengths are areas or aspects of our character (which is defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”).
Our character traits are what make us the unique human beings we are—and we all have varying amounts of certain traits. That’s what makes us all so different. And we all have character traits that we are really strong in (aka character strengths) and some we may not be as strong in, which is okay. It’s impossible to be strong in all areas!
When we have character traits that we are weak in, we may want to consider focusing on our weakest character strengths or traits and see if we can build any of them up a bit. But the easiest thing to do would be to focus on our strengths and work to maintain them and maybe even build them up some more.
Finding and using your character strengths can help you to cultivate happiness (and therefore well-being) in your life.
One way to find your character strengths is to think about what’s important to you and what you are good at. As mentioned, everyone will have different character strengths.
>> When we aren’t in alignment with our strengths, we experience incongruence—which is when there’s a discrepancy between our perceived self (how we view ourselves) and our ideal self (how and who we want to be).
>> If we aren’t in congruence, and we don’t live to our strengths, we risk feeling unhappy or unfulfilled, and, as what the Buddhists call dukkha, which translates to “suffering” (but is more accurate as unsatisfactoriness).
So knowing what our character strengths are, and living to them, can help us feel more productive and like we are more in congruence with our ideal selves. Then there won’t be as much of a disconnect.
People might wonder: once I know my strengths, if I use them more, will I be happier or have a greater sense of well-being?
The simple answer is: yes, but it might not be easy to implement in your daily life.
You can pick your character strengths by doing the viacharacter.org survey. Do the survey every six months and see if they’ve changed from the last time you did it. Your first five are your key strengths; the bottom five are your weakest and where you may want to see if you can work on those skills.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, there are six main categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.
Under these umbrellas fall the individual character strengths or traits.
Wisdom: creativity, curiosity, judgement (critical thinking), love of learning, perspective
Courage: bravery, honesty, perseverance, zest
Humanity: kindness, love, social intelligence
Justice: fairness, leadership, teamwork
Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality
You can look at the character strengths psychologically as each is a capacity for interacting with the world through our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Let’s take a look at each in turn with some example questions to ask ourselves:
Thoughts: when I’m being creative, what thoughts go through my mind? What thoughts are present when I am appreciating beauty? Or acting in a brave way?
Feelings/Emotions: what does kindness or leadership or curiosity feel like? How does it feel in your body, somatically? How do you feel when you’re being prudent or have more self-regulation?
Actions (behaviours): what can I do to express gratitude? Or bravery? Or love? What is the action involved when I am expressing fairness?
If you think of the character strengths through the lens of those three aspects (thoughts/feelings/actions), it makes it a bit easier to come up with ways where you can apply them in your everyday life.
You may want to choose a few of your top strengths and examine them through the think, feel, be framework and see how you can come up with creative ways to use them in your life.
Perhaps even pick a couple a week and try to see how you can apply them! It can help to keep a journal and write down how it has gone when you’ve tried to implement a certain strength throughout a day (or week).
I’d love to know: what are your character strengths? How are you going to work with them in your life to increase your happiness and well-being, and decrease your incongruence, so you’ll be one step closer to being your more authentic self?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.