Is the love of reading a strength in the workplace?
Character is used as an umbrella term for positively rated characteristics of people. In contrast to the prevailing understanding of personality or temperament, character also includes characteristics that are an expression of excellence (e.g. moral or intellectual excellence). In everyday life, on the other hand, character is often used synonymously for personality.
Although character was a central theme in psychology at the beginning of the 20th century, it was "banned" from the scientific literature, which, according to Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert (1936), should only deal with "neutral" concepts while assessed properties Subject of philosophy. Only since the emergence of positive psychology has psychology been concerned again with character.
VIA classification (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
The prevailing concept of character comes from the American psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004). According to Peterson and Seligman, character describes largely stable inter-individual differences in character strengths and virtues, which - in contrast to classic personality traits - are explicitly assumed to be changeable. Character encompasses three levels: virtues, character strengths, and situational issues (Peterson and Seligman, 2004):
Virtues are viewed by moral philosophers and religious thinkers as core characteristics of human functioning. Six virtues appear again and again in historical and contemporary writings from various cultures: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, moderation and transcendence. These are therefore understood to be generally valid (Dahlsgaard, Peterson & Seligman, 2005).
Strengths of Character are the processes or mechanisms that define the virtues. They represent different ways of exercising or showing virtues. The virtue of wisdom can be achieved, for example, by exercising the strengths of character creativity, curiosity, love of learning, judgment and foresight. A distinction is made between 24 character strengths, which can be assigned to the six virtues.
Situational issues are specific habits that enable people to show certain strengths of character in a certain situation. The Gallup organization has identified many hundreds of situational topics for the context of the workplace, for example "empathy" (anticipating and meeting the needs of others), "positivity" (seeing the good in people and in situations) or "inclusion" (making others feel Being part of the group) (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). Situational topics can differ depending on the situation (e.g. at work or at home), but they can also overlap.
The classification of virtues and character strengths arose through the review of philosophical, religious and psychological literature as well as catalogs of virtues (e.g. non-profit associations or scouts) and sources from popular culture (e.g. positive characteristics of superheroes). As a counterpart to the DSM classification of mental illnesses, it forms a classification of positive characteristics. Based on ten criteria, 24 character strengths were included in the classification. One of the ten criteria was, for example, that a strength of character should be fulfilling; more precisely, it should contribute to fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction.
The following section provides an overview of the 24 character strengths and six virtues of the Values-in-Action Classification Given by Peterson and Seligman (2004), from the translation by Ruch and Proyer (2011):
Virtue 1: wisdom and knowledge (cognitive strengths that include the acquisition and use of knowledge)
Creativity: Finding new and effective ways of doing things
Curiosity: Have an interest in the environment
Judgment and open-mindedness: Think things through and look at them from all sides
Love of learning: Learn new techniques and acquire knowledge
Foresight: Be able to give good advice
Virtue 2: courage (Emotional strengths that, through the exercise of willpower, help to overcome internal and external barriers to achieving a goal)
Bravery (courage): Do not bow to threat or pain, but accept challenges
Perseverance (tenacity, perseverance, hard work): Finish what was started
Honesty (integrity): Tell the truth and act naturally
Thirst for action (vitality): Meet the world with enthusiasm and energy
Virtue 3: Humanity (Interpersonal strengths that enable loving human interactions)
Ability to love and be loved: Being able to establish and appreciate human closeness
Friendliness (generosity): Do favors and do good deeds
Social intelligence (social competence): Be aware of your own motives and feelings and those of others
Virtue 4: Justice (Strengths that promote the community)
Teamwork (civic responsibility, ability to work in a team): Work well as a member of a team
Fairness: Treat all people according to the principle of equality and justice
Leadership skills: Organize and facilitate group activities
Virtue 5: moderation (Strengths that counteract excesses)
Forgiveness and grace: Forgive those who have wronged you
Modesty and Humility: Let what you have achieved speak for you
Caution (prudence, circumspection): Do not do or say anything that may be regretted later
Self-regulation: Regulate what you do and feel
Virtue 6: Transcendence (Strengths that bring us closer to a higher power and make sense)
Sense of beauty and excellence: Appreciate beauty in all areas of life
Gratitude: Be aware of and appreciate good things
Hope (optimism): Expect the best and work to achieve it
Humor: Appreciate laughter and humor and like to make people laugh
Religiousness and Spirituality: Have coherent beliefs about a higher purpose in life
Signature strengths are those strengths that are particularly typical for a person and are often used with pleasure. One can speak of a signature strength if various criteria are met. Among other things, Peterson and Seligman (2004) cited the following criteria: a feeling of authenticity in relation to strength (“that's really me”), a feeling of joy while exercising strength, and an intrinsic motivation to exercise strength. People usually have three to seven signature strengths.
VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS)
The VIA-IS, a questionnaire with 240 items, is the standard instrument for recording the 24 character strengths of the VIA classification and is used in a variety of ways in research and practice. The German version of the VIA-IS can be edited free of charge on the following website (including feedback):
VIA of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth)
The VIA-Youth is a questionnaire for measuring character strengths for young people between 10 and 17 years of age. The 24 character strengths are ascertained on the basis of 198 questions. The German-language version of the VIA-Youth can be edited free of charge under the following link (including feedback):
VIA Structured Interview (VIA-SI)
The VIA-SI is a standardized interview that records signature strengths and takes about 30 minutes. In this process, only qualitative and no quantitative information about the strengths of character or the strengths of a person's signature is obtained.
Character Strengths Rating Form (CSRF)
The CSRF is a research instrument that uses 24 questions to determine strengths of character. This instrument is not suitable for individual diagnostics, as the measurement accuracy is low due to its shortness. But it can be used for research purposes.
Strengths of character and virtues in a cultural comparison
Although the VIA classification was developed in the United States, some studies show that strengths of character prove useful across cultures. The same strengths of character can be found even in cultures that live with very different traditions. Biswas-Diener (2006) examined three very different cultures that are not in contact with one another: members of the Maasai living in Kenya, the Inughuit living in northern Greenland and American students. The results of his study showed that people across all three cultures believed the 24 character strengths existed, endorsed them and rated the development of character as realistic and important. Small differences were only seen in the perceived importance of specific character strengths (e.g. modesty), the existence of cultural institutions that promote character strengths, and the extent to which all character strengths were ascribed to both men and women.
Evidence that the 24 character strengths are recognized across cultures lays a foundation for further research. It was then determined to what extent the strengths of character are different in different countries. McGrath (2014), for example, examined participants from 75 nations on all continents. The results speak for a cross-cultural agreement in the advocacy of character strengths. Across cultures, the strengths of character with the highest levels are honesty, fairness, friendliness, curiosity and judgment. Fairness was even among the five most strongly advocated strengths in all 75 countries. In all 75 countries, self-regulation, modesty, caution, spirituality and drive were the least pronounced strengths of character. A particularly important finding is that a cross-cultural consistency can be found in the self-description of character strengths, as in an earlier study by Park, Peterson and Seligman (2006). Since the data came from people who had filled out the English-language version of the VIA-IS on the Internet, this result can only be generalized to relatively educated people who are interested in character strengths.
The relationship between strengths of character and satisfaction with life has been studied many times. The strengths of character curiosity, gratitude, hope, the ability to love and be loved and the drive for action correlate most strongly with life satisfaction across many studies (e.g. Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004). These studies show moderate correlations with life satisfaction for the strengths of character, sense of beauty and excellence, creativity, judgment, and love of learning. These results are based on self-reports, i.e. one person answers the questions about both character strengths and life satisfaction. Corresponding results were also found in assessments by acquaintances. At most, there were significant correlations between 10 character strengths, which were assessed by people close to them, and life satisfaction (Buschor, Proyer & Ruch, 2013). The three numerically highest correlations were found with the strengths of character hope, drive and curiosity.
As in adults, positive relationships between the character strengths of gratitude, hope, thirst for action and the ability to love and be loved and life satisfaction are shown in children and adolescents (Park & Peterson, 2006a; Gillham et al., 2011). Very young children between the ages of three and nine who were described by their parents as happy had the strengths of character, ability to love and be loved, hope, and drive (Park & Peterson, 2006b). Also interesting is the finding by Park and Peterson (2006a) that a high degree of character strength self-regulation in the parents is positively related to the life satisfaction of the child, but not to the life satisfaction of the parents themselves.
The investigation of romantic love relationships among 13- to 19-year-olds and strengths of character showed that strengths of character contribute positively to general life satisfaction (Weber & Ruch, 2012). The results of the study showed that not only personal strengths of character, but also strengths of character of the partner contribute to life satisfaction. Furthermore, the similarity or difference in some of the couples' character strengths correlated with life satisfaction. It is also interesting that with some character strengths a so-called “selective choice of partner” was shown. The strengths of character hope, religiosity and spirituality, honesty and fairness were similarly high or low in both partners. Furthermore, another study (Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Bareli, 2016), which examined married couples, showed that the development and exercise of character strengths in the relationship is associated with higher relationship satisfaction in both spouses. The extent to which partners exhibit strengths of character and the extent to which the strengths of character can be exercised went hand in hand with higher relationship satisfaction. However, the results of the study showed that men who idealized their partner (i.e. men who attributed more character strengths to their wives than women to themselves) reported lower relationship satisfaction. In women, however, this relationship did not occur.
The absence, the excess and the opposite of strengths of character
Christopher Peterson developed the theory of virtues and strengths of character ("that which is good in people") into a theory of mental illness ("that which is wrong in people"; Seligman, 2015). According to Peterson, not only mental health can be described by the presence of character strengths, but mental illness can also be described as the absence, excess, or opposite of character strengths. The 24 character strengths result in three times 24, so a total of 72 pathologies. The opposite of the strength of character “willingness to forgive” would be vindictiveness, for example, its absence would be ruthlessness and its excess would be excessive indulgence. Aristotle (2000) already emphasizes that it is necessary to find the right measure of every virtue in order to flourish. This idea has been little explored and needs further research.
Post traumatic growth
The study of post-traumatic growth shows that people can be strengthened in many ways in certain cases after profound traumatic events. Tedeschi and Calhoun (1995) found that post-traumatic growth can occur in five areas: more intense appreciation of life, more intense personal relationships, discovery of new possibilities, awareness of one's own strengths, and spiritual development. In addition, strengths of character can also increase. Traumatic events, such as life-threatening accidents, sexual abuse and / or physical abuse, can be associated with an increase in character strengths (Peterson, Park, Pole, D’Andrea & Seligman, 2008). The more traumatic events were experienced, the higher the expression in almost all character strengths (with the exception of the character strengths of gratitude, hope and the ability to love and be loved). Furthermore, a study that assessed character strengths before and after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 (Peterson & Seligman, 2003) showed that the character strengths of gratitude, hope, kindness, leadership, ability to love and be loved, religiosity and Spirituality and teamwork increased after the events. However, due to methodological limitations, the results of these studies should be interpreted with caution - they are not before-and-after measurements on the same people, so that it cannot be reliably concluded how the observed changes came about.
And much more
The research field of character strengths goes far beyond the topics presented. For example, the interplay of character strengths and well-being, work, team roles, job crafting, calling, leadership, therapy, coaching and school are also examined.
Allport, G. W., & Odbert, H. S. (1936). Trait names: A psycho-lexical study. Psychological Monographs, 47, (Whole No. 211). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0093360
Aristotle. (2000). Nicomachean ethics (R. Crisp, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2006).From the equator to the north pole: A study of character strengths. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 293-310. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3646-8
Buckingham, M. & Clifton, D.O. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. New York, NY: Free Press.
Buschor, C., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2013). Self- and peer-rated character strengths: How do they relate to satisfaction with life and orientations to happiness? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 116-127. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2012.758305
Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9, 203-213. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.52
Gillham, J., Adams-Deutsch, Z., Werner, J., Reivich, K., Coulter-Heindl, V., Linkins, M.,… Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Character strengths predict subjective well-being during adolescence. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6, 31-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2010.536773
Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Bareli, Y. (2016). My better half: Strengths endorsement and deployment in married couples. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 1730-1745. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X14550365
McGrath, R. E. (2014). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 41-52. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.888580
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006a). Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents: The development and validation of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 891-909. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.04.011
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006b). Character strengths and happiness among young children: Content analysis of parental descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 323-341. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3648-6
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.23.5.603.50748.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118-129. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 17439760600619567
Peterson, C., Park, N., Pole, N., D’Adrea, W., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2008). Strengths of character and posttraumatic growth.Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21, 214-217. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.20332
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Character strengths before and after September 11. Psychological Science, 14, 381-384. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.24482
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Ruch, W., & Proyer, R. T. (2011). Positive Psychology: Fundamentals, Research Topics, and Applications. Report Psychology, 36, 60–70.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2015). Chris Peterson’s unfinished masterwork: The real mental illnesses. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 3-6. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.888582
Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012). The role of character strengths in adolescent romantic relationships: An initial study on partner selection and mates ’life satisfaction. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 1537-1546. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.06.002.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
At www.charakterstaerken.org you have the opportunity to fill out questionnaires with individual feedback (including the VIA-IS) and also support the research efforts of the University of Zurich.
A free German-language training program in positive psychology is offered on the website www.staerkentraining.ch.
The English language website www.viacharacter.org provides information on character strengths, courses, professional use, other resources and research results.
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