Martin Seligman defines Positive Psychology as “The scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” Recently, I discovered the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness website https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu which offers some validated questionnaires to help you assess your happiness, grit, work-life balance, character strengths and other measures of well-being. Registering for the site is easy, and after you complete a survey, the results can be saved or printed.
Today, I took the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. The survey is widely utilized by mental health professionals, corporations, and even the U.S. Army for resiliency training. My results were as follows:
Top Strength: Gratitude
Your Second Strength: Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
Strength #3: Appreciation of beauty and excellence
Strength #4: Industry, diligence, and perseverance
Strength #5: Curiosity and interest in the world
Identifying your character strengths is helpful for cultivating resiliency. As a psychiatrist, I often try to identify and nurture my patient’s character strengths to help them accomplish their goals.
Let us use my survey results as an example. As noted above, my top character strengths are ‘gratitude’ and ‘hope, optimism, and future-mindedness.’ Knowing these are my top character strengths, how can I use this information to achieve a goal like writing a novel?
Let’s start with gratitude. Gracious individuals are aware of the good things that happen to them, and never take them for granted. They tend to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Gratitude can be cultivated in some ways including meditation and journaling. My personal preference is to do these practices in the morning, but I know some people who enjoy doing them at night before bed. In either case, sit quietly and just write down or reflect upon five things you are currently grateful for in your life for about 10 minutes. Starting and/or ending the day with gratitude reflection can put your mind at ease, help identify what is important to you, and provide a little boost of motivation to continue long, challenging projects like novel writing.
According to the survey, my second strongest strength is hope, optimism, and future-mindedness. Individuals with this strength expect the best in the future and work to achieve it. At the core of this strength is the belief that the future is something that can be molded or controlled. This strength can be cultivated through what I call ‘positive focus’ meditation. For example, if you are writing a novel, visualize its entire path to completion. Recognize and accept that there will be bumps along the road, but imagine yourself overcoming them. Imagine how good it will feel to complete it and share it with the world.Tell yourself, “Whatever obstacles I may face, I will finish and publish this novel.” If you do this kind of practice on a regular basis, you will not only be able to anticipate challenges, you will overcome them with ease. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
Your character strengths may be different than mine, but resilience can be cultivated from any combination of character strengths. The first and most important step is to identify your character strengths. The website above can help you do this. Second, figure out a way to bolster those strengths. Meditation works for me, but something else may work for you. That’s okay. If you follow these simple steps, no goal will be out of reach, even writing a novel.
Image: Feeling grateful while on a jog in Central Park, NYC