What are your signature character strengths? And how can you use them?

Find out why it’s so important for success and happiness that we understand what our signature character traits are – and how to use yours. 

Are you seeking to increase your job satisfaction, life satisfaction or your general level of wellbeing? As chartered psychologist Dr Jemma Harris explains, knowing and using your character strengths could be a key step.

Why it’s important to be true to your values

It is through living a life that is in tune with your innermost values that you will be truly able to flourish. A wealth of evidence suggests that acting due to internal reasons (reasons such as enjoyment, interest, curiosity and excitement) rather than to external pressures is the best route to happiness, wellbeing and vitality.

However, the concept of values can sometimes seem so intangible that thinking of practical ways in which to bring our everyday actions in line with our internal preferences and priorities can be tricky.

Research examining how to put values into action has suggested that using what are known as your ‘signature character strengths’ could be the way forward.

The six groups of character strengths

Psychologists have identified a list of character strengths that help to translate your values into action. Employing your signature strengths more often could help you to feel that you are living more authentically, that you are learning new things (or utilising old skills in new ways) and to feel more energised and enthusiastic in your life.

So, what are these character strengths and how do you recognise them? There are 24 universal character strengths and they can be clustered into six groups.

1) Wisdom and knowledge

If you find yourself frequently motivated and vitalised by a burning desire to learn, to understand things around you, to analyse deeply and perhaps come up with solutions to problems, then some of your signature strengths may well lie within this group.

You might be the sort of person who is deeply fascinated by a few specific things, or who perhaps takes a wide-eyed approach to life in general. If you are good at ‘thinking outside the box’ you may well have a signature strength from within this group.

Strengths include:

  • (1) curiosity.
  • (2) love of learning.
  • (3) critical thinking.
  • (4) ingenuity/creativity.
  • (5) social/emotional intelligence.
  • (6) perspective.

2) Courage

Are you the sort of person who can strive towards uncertain but worthwhile goals even in the face of big challenges? Do you value integrity and honesty? If you are the sort of person who does not backpedal in the face of threat, challenge or difficulty then you will probably have signature strengths situated within this group.

People with signature strengths from this group tend to see projects and tasks through to the end, and aren’t afraid to hold and express views and opinions that go against the grain.

Strengths include:

  • (7) bravery.
  • (8) perseverance.
  • (9) integrity.

3) Humanity and love

In this group we’re all about the love. Central to strengths within this group is a strong awareness that people matter. If you are often motivated and energised through positive interaction with others then you may well have strengths within this group.

Perhaps you feel that is important to be kind and you make time for others. However, this group of strengths isn’t all about the capacity for kindness and the ability to love others… it also includes the ability to allow yourself to be loved too.

Strengths include:

  • (10) kindness.
  • (11) loving and allowing yourself to be loved.

4) Justice

Do you value a sense of community? Are you a good team player? Strengths within this group focus on your values with regards to larger groups: your family, your local community, your colleagues, or perhaps the world community.

If you have strengths in this group you will be likely to feel happy and energised through a sense of fairness, loyalty and perhaps even structure. You might be concerned with the welfare of others, with issues of equality, and like to be or to work with an effective, humane and just leader.

Strengths include:

  • (12) citizenship/teamwork/loyalty.
  • (3) fairness and equity.
  • (14) leadership.

5) Temperance

This group of strengths centre around your ability to appropriately moderate the expression of what you need and what you want.

This doesn’t mean that you hide your motives or suppress your own needs, instead you ensure that you wait for opportunities where you can meet your own needs, while not running the risk of detracting from anyone else’s wellbeing.

This all involves an amount of emotional regulation. So if your signature strengths fall within this group you might also be good at managing your own emotions, perhaps especially so when something bad happens.

Strengths include:

  • (15) self-control.
  • (16) discretion.
  • (17) humility/modesty.

6) Transcendence

Do you long to part of something much, much bigger than yourself? Do you throw your body and soul into the things that you do? If so, you may have signature strengths falling within this perhaps higher order group!

This final group consists of strengths that take you beyond you as an individual and focus on you as a person connected to something much bigger.

If you find yourself standing in awe appreciating ancient woodlands (or even mathematical formulae or scientific theories), regularly experience gratitude for the good things in your life, or have strong beliefs in higher purpose and the meaning of life, the universe and everything, then you’ll be likely to have signature strengths in this category.

While those qualities might seem rather serious, being playful, seeing the light side of life and making people laugh could also mean you have strengths in this group too!

Strengths include:

  • (18) appreciation of beauty and excellence.
  • (19) gratitude.
  • (20) hope and optimism.
  • (21) spirituality/sense of purpose.
  • (22) forgiveness.
  • (23) playfulness/humour.
  • (24) zest/passion/enthusiasm.

How to use your character strengths

Finding ways to use more of your character strengths across various areas of your life will help you to cultivate more positive emotion, feel more satisfied with your life and be more resilient in the face of challenges.

Professor Martin Seligman and colleagues use signature strengths based exercises within positive psychology interventions, including international education and military resilience-based programmes. They advocate identifying your signature strengths and using them as much as possible across as many life contexts as possible.

So take some time to reflect on what your signature strengths are, and identify your top three or four. Set yourself the challenge of finding a new way to use a signature strength each day for the next week.

You never know, taking some time to stop and appreciate beauty on your daily commute, engaging in a few random acts of kindness, forgiving a foe, bringing a little more humour into things, finding opportunities to work as part of a team, or finding new ways to be creative at work could be just the boost you are looking for!

You can find out the specific signature strengths that you rate most highly on via a self-rating scale in the appendix of the book Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Professor Martin Seligman, or by registering to access the online questionnaire bank at the University of Pennsylvania.

Love to read more about positive psychology?

You can read more advice on having a positive mindset in these articles:

Dr Jemma Harris is a Chartered psychologist, researcher and social entrepreneur. She works with social enterprises, and other organisations with links to health and wellbeing, to provide advice on how to align training, content and activities with psychological theories and practice.

Jemma also provides assistance with issues related to outcome measurement, data analysis and developing research informed reports on social impact. You can read more about her work here.