What are strengths and virtues?

A summary from my dissertation.

In this explanation, I do not want to bore you with too much theory. I am trying my best to keep my summary short.

Positive psychology

The field of positive psychology is filled with research that tries to define or quantify happiness. As a result researchers are asking what characteristics lead to an individual’s happiness and well-being. Most noteworthy, is the manual written by Peterson and Seligman. Their manual is all about classifying positive psychology into usable tools. Furthermore, their work includes the largest collection of research. This is why I believe my blog can be useful, because my focus is to explain this system using simple everyday analogies.

How did it start?

Pre-dating 1998, little scientific research explored the role of positive emotions and strengths in the prevention and treatment of mental health. All of this began to change when Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association (Bacon, 2005).

Seligman believed psychology placed too much focus on mental health as an illness. He wanted to encourage research that explored the positive consequences that can come from negative experiences. Seligman and other positive psychology researchers set about redefining mental health in terms of ‘well-being’. What does it mean to be well? Well being is no longer just the absence of illness or dysfunction. To be well is a distinct state of existance with its own traits.

New Classification system

Hence this new line of thinking showed that character strengths are tools that promote optimal functioning. Even in the face of trauma, positive consequences were possible if strengths were utilised. However, there was still a problem of classifying strengths. This is because positive emotions are all so multi-faceted. Therefore, the manual of sanities became such an important tool. Peterson and Seligman’s classification of six virtues and twenty-four-character strengths is the most inclusive classification system in positive psychology. In addition, it provides a legitimate means of referring to strengths in a way that is measurable and therefore makes psychological well-being possible.

What does the classification system look like?

Firstly, there are the six core virtues. These virtues are;

  • Humanity (This virtue promotes altruistic pro-social behaviour)
  • Wisdom (These cognitive strengths involve gaining and applying knowledge)
  • Courage (These emotional strengths necessitate restraint to accomplish goals)
  • Justice (civic strengths lay the groundwork for a healthy community and society)
  • Transcendence (This virtue is about a search for meaning and purpose)
  • Temperance (These strengths promote a virtue of moderation).

Secondly, there are the twenty-four-character strengths that are the core ingredients to well being. Finally, the third level is the one in which habits of behaviour turn into strengths, for instance, optimism and empathy lead to kindness .

In conclusion, do not stress if all of this seems a little confusing. It will become more clear as we go through each virtue. You will see for yourself what I mean, but you are always welcome to ask questions.

P.s. Picture: Irini Simitci-Green