Virtues & Strengths: Who We Are in the World



IMG_0911Recently, I became aware of using my strength of “Awe” (Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence) in a novel way. I was tagged to participate in a seven-day Challenge on Nature Photography. I woke up the first morning and, each day for the seven days, began the day thinking what might be my photo for the day. I was stepping outdoors with an eye for the unusual yet everyday beauty. My excitement grew each day with beauty I could capture and share with others. I was noticing everything and photographing ordinary moments, then delighting in choosing one to post onto Social Media.

We all have strengths — our own configuration — that allows us to be individuals. In fact, there are a number of online sites you can visit and take their survey. My favorite is

VIA stands for ‘virtues in action’ and came about as a result of a group of scientists over a three year period who studied cultures around the world and found what was considered the six most important virtues and within them, the 24 strengths that all people possess to varying degrees.

A short questionnaire will compile your strengths profile with the top five or six being your character (or signature) strengths. These virtues, expressed through our strengths, are who we are in the world. By consciously and mindfully using our strengths in different ways or noticing when we are expressing them in our life, our lives become richer and more fun.


When I learned my profile of strengths, I wasn’t surprised by my top five because it is how I live in the world. What I am learning is that by intentionally expressing them, my life is more meaningful and rewarding. I’ve also learned to focus on strengths that I don’t use as often (or, initially thought I wasn’t good at) and find ways to creatively use them as well as notice them in others. Knowing my personal profile of strengths has become a set of lanterns in my life that I can more consciously use especially during challenging times.

A question I am asked often is, “Can I change my strengths profile?” Yes, you can. Though our top five or six tend to be somewhat consistent because they more closely align with who we are and how we live in the world. Why would you want to change those? I’ve taken the online questionnaire several times and find some strengths do move up the list or trade places with another strength. A friend of mine told me that the strength of ‘Love of Learning’ moved higher on her list when she returned to school. So, yes, our profile can change depending on what we are focusing on in our life.

A practice I like to do is to use a top strength to explore a strength less used in my life. For example, curiosity is a top strength for me while teamwork is not one I use often. When the opportunity came along for me to work with a team working on a common goal, I used my curiosity to explore me working with the team. It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me. I imagine if I were to re-visit the questionnaire, now, teamwork might be higher on my list because I’ve consciously focused on it as more a part of my life experience.

In my workshops, I teach virtues and strengths as a way to expand an understanding of who my students are as well as acknowledging what they are good at in their day-to-day. We are often, quite honestly, too focused on what may not be a top strength. Many us look to what’s wrong and ignore what is good which leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When we look to what we are good at and what our natural strengths are, life becomes more satisfying and fun.

Using my strength of awe in my 7-day photo challenge was most rewarding as each day I could offer beauty and joy in a time of conflict around the world. What strength can you use to expand your life and those around you?


Living in Strength


Mountain Goat Utah

“Curious people pursue experiential novelty, variety, and challenge.”

I thought I would be writing about mindfulness in this post. However, what I am full with this morning are my strengths — love of learning and curiosity. So I am going with the flow and will write about mindfulness at another time.

I have spent too much time in my life in judgement and self-criticism around what I thought were my faults. I have worked hard to try to fix them with all the New Age approaches and therapies I could use — affirmations, visualizations, energy healing, journaling, and reading every self-help book I could lay my hands on. I also spent years in therapy through my 20’s and 30’s trying to understand and looking at my past as the focus of blame and trying to repair my faults. All of my efforts provided few lasting results. I still struggle with forgiveness and teamwork. Sound familiar?

Then, several years ago I found the Certificate in Positive Psychology course through The Whole Being Institute and offered at Kripalu. I became immersed in Positive Psychology which is grounded in the science of what is good and what is working in life. Rather than looking only at what needs fixing, Positive Psychology looks at successful, happy people and looks at what they do that makes a difference regardless of their past (or present circumstances). What a game changer this has been for me!

Note: if you want to shed light on your life and begin living from what is working, go to Whole Being Institute ( and consider investing positively in yourself.

One area of Positive Psychology that has had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day life has been the study of strengths and learning to live more from my character strengths while nurturing some of the strengths that are not at the top of my being in the world.

Learning about virtues and strengths that are universal opened my eyes to a whole new world and a positive focus in my life as well as those I work with. Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson (two top psychologists in Positive Psychology research) wanted to know about the strengths that are inherent in people worldwide. Through their research and work, they found there were six virtues — wisdom, temperance, transcendence, courage, justice, and humanity — that are commonly valued across cultures. Within those six virtues are twenty-four strengths that are also commonly valued worldwide. They are: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. These strengths exist in everyone to varying degrees. Seligman and Peterson found that everyone has strengths that are used more than others and that through questioning we can learn what strengths make up who we are as individuals (a personal blueprint of strengths) in our lives. Our top five to seven strengths are used most and are referred to as our character strengths or those that make up who we are in our day-to-day.

Note: Go to to learn your personal ranking of the 24 strengths. There are, also, other organizations that offer strengths questionnaires for you to learn yours. A simple Google search will lead you to several.

When I took the VIA (Virtues in Action) questionnaire I saw my personal blueprint showing my ranking of the twenty four universal strengths. I had an ‘aha!’ moment! I was pleased and sat with a clearer understanding of who I am in my life to myself and others.Though my most used strengths were no surprise, they were a relief to know, and my understanding of myself expanded.

My character strengths (or my top 5 – 7) shed light on how I think, act, and present myself in my daily life. What was even more enlightening were the strengths, though present, that are not my most used. The two at the bottom of my list of twenty-four are the ones I’ve judged (and been judged for) myself for not expressing easily. I felt ‘off the hook’ for my life-long struggles to be different than I am and more like others.

Fun for me has been identifying when I am using my strengths, being mindful of using them in new ways (there, I am writing about mindfulness), and when I am spotting strengths in others. I am also learning to use my top strengths to nurture those strengths I use less, yet would like to use more.

“Teamwork is a strong sense of duty, works for the good of the group rather than for personal gain…”

Teamwork is not a top strength for me which explains why I work so much better being self-employed and in a solo healthcare practice. Now, I’ve been on many teams in my life (as an athlete in my youth, teamwork was important), however, teamwork isn’t something I often seek out now that I am older.

Last fall I was accepted to work as part of a team of teaching assistants for the current year-long course in Positive Psychology. I realized it as an opportunity to use the year to strengthen my skills of teamwork. I thought it would, at times, be a challenge to be communicating, working with and sharing responsibilities to guide a group of new students into and through a year of Positive Psychology study.

I must admit that there have been times in my adult life where I would not have even begun such a journey. There have also been times when I would excuse myself (yes, quit) to return to my solitary and comfortable way of being.

This time, however, my commitment is to continue and learn all I can while immersing myself fully in a team. My two top strengths — love of learning and curiosity — I am using to bolster teamwork in myself. I like to look at it as tethering my top strengths to one that I want to develop and master more. I am using my love of learning (learning all I can about myself and the team I am part of) and curiosity (my natural tendency to explore) to become a better team player.

What fun I am having!! I love the journey and am making new life-long friends in the process. I am even more passionate about Positive Psychology and working with others to extend the outreach of happiness in the world. I am appreciating my team and grateful for this opportunity (two of my other character strengths). I know I will continue to look for more teamwork possibilities in my life and will do it again and again!

I highly recommend you find out what your top/character strengths are and find ways to consciously live from them. I know you will be happier, healthier, and experience a more fulfilling life. For yours, go to