Good character is something everyone looks for in other people.
Whether they are employees, students, friends, or potential dating partners. Sometimes called character strengths, these are the good qualities that people possess—a collection of positive traits that show people’s strengths—rather than a compilation of their faults and issues.
According to those who practice positive psychology, good character is exemplified in 24 widely-valued character strengths that are organized under six broad virtues. These 24 character strengths were first studied and identified by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Neil Mayerson.
Together, they eventually created the Values In Action (VIA) Institute on Character, which identifies these character strengths that all people have in varying degrees. Later, a team of 50 social scientists identified six virtues, which are now used to classify the character strengths.
Typically, those who use a character strength inventory look for ways to identify and use these 24 character strengths in a person’s life. Then, they help them build on these strengths in order to improve their lives and their emotional well-being as well as address the challenges and difficulties they are facing.
A person’s character strengths are determined using the VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS), which is suitable for ages 18 and older, or the VIA Inventory of Strengths—Youth Version (VIA-Youth), which is designed for kids ages 10-17. Both assessment tools are available online.
Consequently, researchers caution against assuming that there are single indicators for good character. Instead, a person’s character should be viewed across a continuum.
What’s more, the creators of the VIA assessment tool stress that the character traits not included among a person’s signature strengths are not necessarily weaknesses, but rather lesser strengths in comparison to the others. Likewise, the top five strengths should not be interpreted in a rigid way because there are usually no meaningful differences in their magnitudes.
It’s also important to note that the 24 character strengths that these tools identify have been studied across cultures. Research shows that these strengths are linked to important components of individual and social well-being, even though different strengths predict different outcomes.
For instance, growing evidence indicates that the character strengths hope, kindness, social intelligence, self-regulation, and perspective all guard against the negative effects of stress and trauma. Meanwhile, successful recovery from physical illnesses is associated with increases in bravery, kindness, and humor. Additionally, identifying and utilizing character strengths also can help young people experience academic success, develop tolerance, delay gratification, and value diversity.
The 24 character strengths that Dr. Seligman identified are divided into six classes of virtues. These six virtues include wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Here is a closer look at the six virtues and the character strengths that are classified under each.
Those who score high in the area of wisdom tend to have cognitive strengths that lead them to not only acquire knowledge but to use it in creative and useful ways. Here is an overview of the core character strengths that fall under wisdom.
- Creativity: Thinking of new ways to do things
- Curiosity: Taking an interest in a wide variety of topics
- Open-Mindedness: Examining things from all sides; thinking things through
- Love of Learning: Mastering new topics, skills, and bodies of research
- Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; looking at the world in a way that makes sense
People who score high in courage have emotional strengths that allow them to accomplish goals despite any opposition they face—whether internal or external. Here is a closer look at the core character strengths that are classified under courage.
Honesty: Speaking the truth; being authentic and genuine
Bravery: Embracing challenges, difficulties, or pain; not shrinking from threat
Persistence: Finishing things once they are started
Zest: Approaching all things in life with energy and excitement
Those who score high in humanity have a range of interpersonal strengths that involve caring for and befriending others. Here’s an overview of the core character strengths that are classified under humanity.
- Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds
- Love: Valuing close relations with others
- Social Intelligence: Being aware of other people’s motives and feelings
People who have a number of character strengths under justice tend to possess civic strengths that underscore the importance of a healthy community. Here is a closer look at the core character strengths that fall under justice.
- Fairness: Treating all people the same
- Leadership: Organizing group activities and making sure they happen
- Teamwork: Working well with others as a group or a team
Those who score have a number of character strengths that fall under temperance tend to have strengths that protect against the excesses in life. Here’s an overview of the core character strengths that fall under temperance.
- Forgiveness: Forgiving others who have wronged them
- Modesty: Letting one’s successes and accomplishments stand on their own
- Prudence: Avoiding doing things they might regret; making good choices
- Self-Regulation: Being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
People who have a number of character strengths that fall under transcendence tend to forge connections with God, the universe, or religions that provide meaning, purpose, and understanding. Here’s a closer look at the core character strengths that fall under transcendence.
- Appreciation of Beauty: Noticing and appreciating beauty and excellence in everything
- Gratitude: Being thankful for the good things; taking time to express thanks
- Hope: Expecting the best; working to make it happen; believing good things are possible
- Humor: Making other people smile or laugh; enjoying jokes
- Religiousness: Having a solid belief about a higher purpose and meaning of life
For example, one widely researched strategy involves encouraging people to use their signature strengths in a new way each week. In fact, one study found that having adults do this every day led to increases in happiness and decreases in depression for six months.
This study then became the basis for several more studies that utilized the same methods for older adults, employees, and people with traumatic brain injuries. Another approach involves focusing on a person’s lowest-rated strengths in an attempt to enhance those areas of their lives.
Research also has demonstrated the living through a traumatic event can impact character strengths. In the six months following the 9/11 attacks, the character strengths of religiousness, hope, and love were elevated among U.S. respondents but not among European respondents.