Blog #57 – Character strengths – Part 5
So, you’ve completed the VIA character strengths questionnaire – now what?
Once you do the questionnaire online, you will receive immediate results ranking how you fared on the individual strengths contained within the classification, from #1 (your top strength) to #24 (the strength you scored worst on). The instant feedback on the VIA website merely lists your league table of results, it doesn’t tell you how you scored on each strength or offer any further elaboration on what your scores might mean for you. If you choose, you have the option of purchasing reports that go into greater detail and give an in-depth breakdown of your results, as well offering more information on the strengths themselves. I have no ties with the VIA and so won’t use this platform to offer an opinion on whether it would be worthwhile or not to spend money on detailed reports; however, even if you choose not to, seeing the league table-style ranking list even without additional information can be illuminating.
The logic of the classification and the questionnaire is that each individual will tend to have two to five signature strengths, i.e., strengths that you are most naturally able to tap into and cultivate. So, when you look at the instant results on the VIA website, even without specific scores and individualised comments, you will be able to see your top five and know that these approximate towards being your key signature strengths.
When you see the #1-24 laid out in league table format, you will most likely find that it makes sense to you in terms of how you view yourself, but we still need to consider how we distinguish between a signature strength and other strengths.
Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson considered this important point when constructing the classification and spoke in terms of how a signature strength might be defined as one that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently uses. More specifically, they suggest a number of possible criteria that line up with the exercising of a signature strength. For example, if when attempting to use a particular strength you feel a sense of ownership and authenticity with regard to it (i.e., that you somehow feel as if you are tapping into your real self), then that may well mean it is one of your signature strengths. Other examples of these criteria include a feeling of excitement when displaying the strength, feeling invigorated rather than exhausted when using it, seeking out projects that will allow you to use it, and experiencing intrinsic motivation to use the strength, i.e., wanting to exercise the strength because of that sense of ‘fit’, as opposed to being focused on extrinsic considerations, such as using it to make money. On this latter point, using signature strengths may well prove to be financially beneficial, but that can almost be incidental or a happy by-product, as opposed to being your primary motivation for using them.
If you look at your own results, you should feel like some of these criteria apply to your top five, and would perhaps feel less applicable to the strengths appearing at the lower end of the league table.
Even then, it is important to bear in mind that you shouldn’t somehow write-off the strengths that show up towards the end of your ranking list. If, say, Kindness and Self-Regulation come in at #23 and #24, you should not conclude that this means you’re ‘not good’ at them and then abandon any efforts at being kind or exercising self-control. More correctly, just as signature strengths seem to come naturally, those that rank lower down the list will tend to require more work, but it does not mean that any such efforts should be abandoned. For example, if Self-Regulation is one of my signature strengths, then discipline and self-control will most likely come a lot easier to me than they will with someone for whom that strength ranks at #24. However, that does not mean that the latter person cannot exercise discipline and self-control; instead, it means that it will take more effort for that person to get there, but in almost all circumstances, they will be able to do so. So, items that rank towards the bottom of the list should not be thought of as weaknesses, but as strengths that will require more work to develop than signature strengths.
The broad pattern of research findings into the use of the classification makes for interesting reading. As mentioned in earlier posts, Seligman and Peterson wanted a universal classification of strengths, i.e., one that would be equally applicable to individuals living in the developing world as those in the developed. In a 2006 article co-written with Nansook Park, Peterson and Seligman highlighted research undertaken with more than 100,000 people in 54 countries around the world. They reported remarkable similarities across the board among adults. Highest “most like me” ratings across regions tended to be for Kindness, Fairness, Authenticity, Gratitude, and Open-mindedness, while Prudence, Modesty, and Self-regulation were among the lower-ranked.
One of the advantages of having identified your signature strengths is that you can then consciously set about trying to incorporate their use in various areas of your life, thus allowing you to reap the well-being-related benefits linked with the criteria listed above, i.e., exercising signature strengths is fulfilling.
You can also set yourself challenges. For example, you might select one of your signature strengths and try to use it in a new way every day for a set period of time. If Curiosity is one of your signature strengths, you might go out of your way to attend a lecture on a topic you know little about. If Humour is one of your key strengths, then you might set yourself the mission of making at least one person smile or laugh every day. You might even try to set the bar higher – if Modesty ranks high with you, you might resolve not to talk about yourself for an entire day. In today’s social media-obsessed world, that might be the greatest challenge of all!
Dr. Mark Barry
Mark Barry was awarded a PhD by University College Cork in 2015 for his research into adolescent well-being. He has lectured psychology at UCC since 2013 and is also a freelance writer.