Character Strengths Guide
Character Traits Guide
Most all of us would agree that character is important to the very fabric of society, yet it has historically been a slippery concept to define and classify. The VIA Character Strength Classification separates 24 character strengths into six broad Virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. The following guide is based largely on that framework, but for the purpose of exploring how Sahaja meditation can improve character strengths, we’ve included a few additional qualities that especially resonate with a Sahaja meditative practice.
1. Wisdom & Knowledge
Strengths that involve acquiring, analyzing and using knowledge; perspective-taking, reflection; responding to novel life situations from perspectives that transcend current circumstances. The University of Chicago’s Wisdom Research Project defines wisdom as “prudential judgment that increases human flourishing.” While wisdom may be founded upon knowledge, it is also shaped and evolved by an ability to manage uncertainty; for example, judicious inaction may be as important as action. Emotion is central to wisdom, yet an ability to objectively, rationally detach is, too. Wisdom is a special blend of heart and mind that tends to not deteriorate over time; rather it improves with time and maturity.
- Creativity (originality, imagination, inventiveness, innovation, enterprising, adaptiveness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, vision). Imagination, idea generation, producing novel, innovative ways to conceptualize and produce things. It certainly includes — but is not limited to — artistic achievement. It may be generally thought of as the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular context, or to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in an original, non-obvious way. Thus, creativity includes both originality and adaptiveness that contributes to the person’s life or to the lives of others. High creatives often have the ability to develop fresh perspectives and engage in divergent thinking — developing multiple novel ideas or solutions rather than just one (convergent thinking). They give themselves permission to ignore conventional solutions, ignore the “censor” and explore uncharted territory. Emotional honesty (and by default, emotional self-awareness) lie at the core of creativity. The more open we are to both new experiences and our own true emotional experiences, the easier it becomes to express them.
- Curiosity (interest, inquisitiveness, spirited inquiry, novelty-seeking, openness to experience). Being keenly interested in, engaged or fascinated by ongoing experience for its own sake; exploring and discovering. Curiosity is that little spark that motivates and compels us to learn more. It opens up new worlds and possibilities. Curious people are driven to explore new ideas, activities and experiences. The accomplishments of all intellectual giants first began with curiosity. Or as Albert Einstein put it: “The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”
- Judgment (critical thinking, powers of reasoning, assessment, judiciousness, prudence, discrimination/discernment). Thinking things through, and examining them from all possible perspectives; weighing evidence fairly, rather than jumping to conclusions or merely accepting the popular view; being able to play devil’s advocate, have a willingness to say, “There’s probably another way to look at this or something I’m not seeing” and change one’s mind in light of new evidence. Judgment can be an important corrective strength in that it counteracts faulty thinking.
- Love of Learning. Strong desire to master new skills, topics, and collections of knowledge, whether formally or informally. A true love of learning goes beyond strong curiosity to include a tendency to deliberately, systematically acquire more knowledge. Motivationally speaking, it often helps us persevere despite challenges, setbacks or negative feedback.
- Perspective. An enduring capacity to explore and evaluate alternative points of view before making decisions; ability to provide wise counsel to others, which often includes the capacity to listen carefully. Good perspective-taking skills allow us to address important questions about the purpose and meaning of life. Good perspective-taking skills are a mark of emotional maturity and, often, self-regulation skills in that the ability to develop proportionate, accurate perspectives of people and situations requires one to control emotional overactivity and use objective reasoning.
Emotional strengths that deal with overcoming fear and involve having the will to accomplish goals and achieve desired outcomes in the face of opposition, whether external or internal. These strengths are composed of cognitions, emotions, motivations and decisions, thus they may manifest inwardly or outwardly.
- Bravery (valor, boldness, heroism, backbone, grit, spirit). Not shrinking from threats, challenges, difficult situations or pain; standing up for what’s right even in the face of opposition; acting on your convictions even if they’re unpopular. May include physical bravery, but isn’t limited to it. Brave people tend to have confidence that what they have to say or do is true, right, and just. The three general types of bravery include: (an individual may possess one of these or a combination):
- Physical bravery (e.g., police officers, firefighters, soldiers)
- Psychological bravery (e.g., confronting and dealing with painful emotional aspects of oneself)
- Moral bravery (e.g., standing up for what’s ethically right, even when you know it will be unpopular)
- Perseverance (persistence, tenacity, determination, endurance, purposefulness, steadfastness, industriousness, “stick-to-it-ive-ness”). Perseverance requires both a motivated effort to perform a task and the endurance to carry it to completion. It requires commitment, voluntarily finishing what you start, persisting despite obstacles, challenges, difficulties or discouragement or setback. Perseverant individuals receive joy and fulfillment in completing tasks.
- Honesty (authenticity, integrity, honorableness, truthfulness, trustworthiness reliability, dependability). Honesty includes accurately representing your internal state, intentions, and commitments, both publicly and privately. It’s about more than just being truthful; it involves presenting yourself in a genuine, sincere way in a broader sense, being without pretense and, ultimately, being accountable: taking responsibility for your feelings and behaviors. Honesty is often linked to the concept of self-concordance — the degree to which your goals are consistent with your core values and developing interests. Ultimately, honesty and authenticity mold self-esteem and self-respect.
- Zest (vitality, enthusiasm, passion, vigor, energy, gusto, eagerness, zeal, liveliness, sparkle, dynamism). Zest is a dynamic strength that includes both physical and psychological thriving. It has an especially strong tie to overall life satisfaction. The zestful person approaches life with enthusiasm, excitement and energy, never doing things halfway or halfheartedly. They feel alive, vivacious and engaged and view life as an adventure.
Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others on a local, personal scale, as well as having concern and brotherly love for humankind on a global scale. These character strengths tend to include a high degree of social consciousness — concern for the welfare of humankind and a complete identification with and understanding of the human condition in general. These individuals have strong connections to others, including deep feelings of empathy, sympathy, and compassion for others. This connection sometimes has an unconditional element in that it may co-exist with an objective awareness of negative qualities in people for whom one is still able to feel empathy. The humanistic individual does not restrict his/her perspectives of others to polarized, black-and-white terms.
- Love (charity, compassion, affection, enjoyment of/appreciation for). Valuing close relationships with others, especially those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. Loving people nurture close relationships, in part through genuine enthusiasm, interest, and understanding the meaning of others’ experiences. While loving relationships may take many forms, the primary four include:
- Attachment love: parent for child; child for parent
- Compassionate/altruistic love: a willingness to invest whatever’s necessary to heal the hurts of others
- Companionate love, friendship
- Romantic love: spouse/partner, boyfriend/girlfriend
- Kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, consideration, “niceness”) Helping others; doing favors and good deeds for others; taking care of them. Kind people tend to be great communicators. They believe that others are worthy of their attention, affirmation and kind treatment in their own right, as human beings, not out of a sense of duty or principle. Examples of altruistic traits include: empathy, sympathy, compassion, moral reasoning, and social responsibility. Daily random displays of kindness might include, for example, slowing to allow a car to blend into traffic or surprising someone with a special treat solely to make that person happy, without ulterior motive.
- Emotional Intelligence (socio-emotional intelligence). Emotional intelligence (EI) involves the ability to perceive, understand and manage the emotions of yourself and others, and use those emotions effectively to drive your thoughts and behavior. Emotional intelligence allows us to accurately analyze emotional information and to integrate thinking and feeling effectively. Emotional intelligence is not the conquest of heart over mind; rather, it is the intelligent intersection of heart and mind — of emotion and thought. People with high EI have the ability to channel their feelings and impulses purposefully and pursue their goals with energy and persistence. They’re highly self-aware, self-motivated and inner-directed, rather than allowing their actions to be governed by the thoughts and behaviors of others. They have well-developed social competencies (e.g., empathy). They’re able to understand, share and accept the feelings of others, maintain emotional perspective when responding to others, and even soften the negative emotional experiences of others. They’re usually good communicators, proficient at managing relationships, building rapport and building networks because their strong interpersonal skills enable others to feel good about them. They tend to be persuasive, inspiring, good at conflict resolution and building harmony, consensus or common ground. (For an in-depth look at emotional intelligence, see the Emotional Intelligence section.)
Civic strengths that foster healthy, positive community life and shape a guiding moral compass through attributes such as fairness, fair-mindedness, evenhandedness and effective leadership. Justice includes taking personal responsibility for upholding what is pure, right, and true.
- Teamwork (citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty). The ability to work effectively as a member of a team; being loyal to the group; doing your fair share. Teamwork is closely related to concepts such as:
- Citizenship — responsibility toward one’s community
- Loyalty — unwavering allegiance and faithfulness to a group, even in trying times
- Patriotism — the ability to be loyal toward one’s homeland without bearing hostile feelings toward other nations
- Fairness (seeking equitable solutions). Treating everyone the same and giving everyone a fair chance; the ability to avoid letting personal, subjective feelings bias your decisions about others. Fairness is a cognitive judgment capacity that requires analytical, decision-making and reasoning ability, including:
- Justice reasoning — logic and weighing principles to determine moral rights and responsibilities
- Care reasoning — empathy and compassion; the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
- Leadership (management, supervision, direction, guidance). Effective leadership involves the ability to organize group tasks and nurture them to completion, all while maintaining good relations within the group. Two general types of leadership styles include:
- Transactional leaders, who clarify responsibilities, expectations and tasks to be accomplished
- Transformational leaders, who foster a climate of trust and commitment to the organization and its goals and are able to motivate and incentivize their followers to perform at peak levels
Ethical leaders are socially responsible, able to recognize the full impact of their actions on society and embrace a full spectrum of values — economic, environmental and social. They “do the right thing,” one decision at a time. They tend to channel their cognitive capacities, emotional capacities and personal values in such a way as to effect consensus-oriented decision-making and cooperative conflict resolution. They’re able to avoid tunnel vision in decision-making that might include, for example: satisfying short-term needs rather than seeking long-term solutions; narrowing search solutions to known territory and habits rather than innovating; seeking immediate satisfaction of their own self-interests rather than considering the interests of societal counterparts with whom they have no direct interaction or interest. (For more on social consciousness, see Social Consciousness: How Sahaja Meditation’s Thoughtless Awareness Helps Corporate Managers Develop a Social Conscience.)
Character strengths that protect against excess, generally through self-restraint.
- Forgiveness (pardoning, exoneration, mercy). Forgiving those who have done wrong and accepting the shortcomings of others; offering second chances to others; lack of vengefulness. Forgiveness is a strength that protects us from feeling hatred. resentfulness or vengefulness toward others. It could be thought of as a specialized form of mercy, substituting unhealthy, destructive feelings towards others with kindness and compassion. Forgiveness is distinguished from:
- condoning (removing the offense)
- forgetting (removing the awareness)
- reconciliation (restoring the relationship)
- Humility (modesty, humbleness, lack of pride or vanity). Humility includes the ability to let your accomplishments speak for themselves and not regarding yourself as more “special” than you are. Humble people do not distort information to defend, show off their accomplishments, or enhance their own image in the eyes of others. They do not need to view themselves — or present themselves — as being “better” or “more” than they actually are. But true humility does not mean low self-esteem, a sense of unworthiness or even a lack of self-focus. It does require an accurate self-assessment and virtues such as recognizing your limitations, an ability to keep accomplishments in perspective, and an ability to admit your mistakes and apologize when necessary.
- Prudence (cautiousness, farsightedness, foresight, forethought, circumspection). Being careful about one’s choices; not taking unjustified risks; an ability to avoid saying or doing things that might later be regretted. Prudence involves both far-sighted planning and short-term, goal-directed planning abilities. It might be thought of as: cautious wisdom, practical wisdom, and practical reason. Prudent people tend to be able to visualize the consequences of their next decision in one, five, ten years’ time.
- Self-Regulation (self-control, maturity, emotional stability, balance). The ability to master one’s emotions, regulate emotional responses and avoid emotional overactivity. Core competencies of emotional regulation include the ability to effectively manage stress and channel emotions into purposeful actions. Self-regulation includes attributes such as discipline, the ability to reign in destructive impulses and delay immediate gratification in order to achieve long-term goals. Self-regulators know how to manage emotions in healthy ways. They can control or redirect disruptive feelings, moods or impulses and think before acting. They have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, a tolerance for ambiguity or gray areas, a facility for flexible thinking, and openness to change.
Strengths that forge soulful connections to the universe and add deeper meaning and purpose to life. People who have transcendent character strengths are far more consciously and deliberately motivated to pursue the values of Being; for example: perfection, truth, beauty, goodness, unity, dichotomy-transcendence. They have a high tolerance for doubt, uncertainty, and ambiguity. They are more easily able to transcend the ego, the self, the identity. They know who they are, where they’re going, what they want, and what they’re good at. They use themselves well and authentically in accordance with their own true nature.
They develop an inherent affinity for — and sensitivity to — the subtler things in life, such as an appreciation of nature, art, or music. To them, life may not feel complete until they reach the pinnacle of their existence within subtler paradigms as compared to the usual human models of success such as money, power or status. Their yardstick for measuring the quality of their lives is the strength of their values and higher achievements. They tend to develop the emotional intelligence to perceive and understand what others are feeling and thinking without any explicit communication. They hold more holistic perspectives about the world, so concepts such as the “national interest” or “the religion of my fathers” or “different classes of people” may either cease to exist or are easily transcended.
They have frequent transcendent experiences (such as peak and plateau experiences) and illuminations that continue to clarify their values and bring clearer vision to their “ideal” what ought to be, what actually could be, and therefore of what might be brought to pass. These peak experiences are what we think of as “the epiphany,” luminous, transient moments during which we have a sense of oneness with the universe. In such transpersonal experiences, the person experiences a communion beyond the boundaries of the self; that is, a sense of identity that transcends or extends beyond the personal self. Transcenders are interested in a “cause beyond their own skin,” and are better able to fuse work and play.’ They love their work and are more interested in kinds of pay other than money.
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (awe, wonder, elevation): Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performances in various domains of life, from nature, art, mathematics and science to everyday experience. These people are more responsive to beauty, find it easier to beautify all things, and have respond to aesthetics more easily than others. For example, they’re are more responsive to:
- Physical beauty. Visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract beauty and goodness that produces awe and wonder
- Skill or talent (excellence). An admiring, energizing form of appreciation that inspires one to pursue one’s own aspirational goals
- Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Produces feelings of elevation, inspires one to be more moral, more loving
- Transcenders experience awe, pleasure, and wonder in their everyday world and often with an “innocence of vision,” like that of a child. They often have deep appreciation for basic life-experience and seem to repeatedly renew appreciation for life’s daily gifts that others take for granted. A sunset, for example, might be experienced as intensely each day as if it were being observed for the first time. They develop a deep appreciation for the richness, uniqueness, goodness and interconnectedness of all the elements surrounding them.
- Gratitude (thankfulness, appreciation, acknowledgement, recognition). Awareness and thankfulness. Gratitude is a two-stage process that includes both acknowledging the goodness in your life and recognizing that the source of this goodness is outside yourself. Gratitude may come in the form of:
- Benefit-triggered gratitude — occurs when a desired benefit is received from a benefactor
- Generalized gratitude — results from awareness and appreciation of what’s valuable and meaningful to you
- Hope (optimism, aspiration, future-mindedness, future-oriented, goal-oriented). Having an optimistic outlook on life; expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a positive future can be brought about, influenced by one’s own efforts. Hopeful people tend to find it easier to find faith and have more confidence that actions rooted in good character will yield the best outcome, even if they cannot immediately determine how. Hopeful people tend to have an optimistic explanatory style (how we explain the causes of bad events), interpreting events as external, unstable and specific. Those who have a pessimistic explanatory style tend to interpret events as internal, stable and global. An optimistic explanatory style has been tightly linked to positive long-term health and well-being. A pessimistic explanatory style, on the other hand, has actually been found to be a risk factor for illness (Peterson et al, 1988).
- Humor (playfulness). These people love to laugh and tease, to bring smiles to other people, and to see the sunny side of things. Having the gift of humor also means having a calm, cheerful view of adversity that allows them to see its light side and thereby sustain positive mood and outlook on life. They have a good sense of humor that’s spontaneous and thoughtful and doesn’t involve hostility, superiority, or sarcasm. It may often manifest as a wry comment or a gentle prodding about the shortcomings of human nature. They have an infinite capacity to laugh at themselves.
- Spirituality. Spirituality is universal. Since the beginning of grime, human civilization has generally acknowledged and appreciated that there is an unseen, all-powerful, natural force guiding the movements of the universe. Despite the specific content of spiritual beliefs, all cultures have a concept of an ultimate, transcendent, sacred force. Possibly the character strength of spirituality could be described as encompassing both the private, intimate relationship between humans and the divine, as well as the range of virtues or character strengths that may result from that relationship. Spiritual people seek to discover the higher purpose and meaning of the universe and understand their place in it. They have a deep appreciation for the wonders of creation and are likely to be more lovable, more awe-inspiring, more “unearthly,” more godly. They possess a strong inner urge to constantly evolve to higher states of existence, maturity and awareness. In Sahaja meditation, this pursuit of spirituality itself is associated with the 3rd chakra or Nabhi. It can be a very subtle inner drive, not always easily recognized. In fact, many may seek spirituality and higher subtler awareness without knowing exactly what they are seeking. They only know that they must pursue this higher consciousness to see where it will lead them. They may find that spirituality opens what is closed, balances what is unbalanced, and reveals what is hidden.
See Also – Do You Know Your 24? Take the free VIA unique character strength profile.
Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.; Vaillant, George E.. Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: A thirty-five-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 55(1), Jul 1988, 23-27.