Myers-Briggs or VIA: A Comparison of Tools

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 5 min read

in the library - pretty, female student with laptop and books wo

Most people these days seem to know their “type” according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). You know whether you prefer to be more extraverted or introverted, thinking or feeling, or judging or perceiving. The MBTI has been one of the most popular tests in pop psychology for decades. People who have taken the test love to guess one another’s type.

Another test that has emerged as the main research-based test of strengths in the world is the VIA Survey. The VIA measures strengths of character and in a short period of time has had over 2.6 million takers reaching every country.

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Need a Mood Boost? Try this Simple Exercise

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 2 min read

window opening of curtains

When my son was hospitalized a couple months ago for a respiratory problem, he was seen by many nurses and doctors. As my wife and I witnessed the medical personnel parade in and out of the room, the typical comments and advice was passed along.

But then, after a couple days, a trio of doctors came in and one of them did something different: With her Irish dialect she offered some observations of my son over the days. Amidst a handful of statements she made describing him, I caught the words: “vibrant,” “hard-working,” and “inquisitive.” Her exact words. My mind immediately went to the thought that she seemed to be spotting his character strengths. I was hearing particular character traits like “zest,” “perseverance,” and “curiosity

I asked her to explain her view of each observation. She readily did. She explained how he is full of energy and is always moving his arms and legs and turning his body with force (i.e., zest). She noted how he is quick to look around in the room, albeit a limited space, in an exploratory way, and is ready to interact with people when they approach him (i.e., curiosity). And, she added, he works hard at whatever challenge he is given whether it’s to reach a toy, sit up, or finish eating and that his congestion and wires hooked up to his body do not get in his way (i.e., perseverance).

Even though she was not aware of it, she was offering strengths-spotting. And this had an immediate positive effect on my mood. I felt lighter and happier. My perception of her, a physician looking at all aspects of my son and not just his illness, widened and strengthened. I will never forget that physician, or her Irish accent.

Oh, did I mention that at that time my son was only 8-months-old? Strengths-spotting can start anytime….any place….with anyone.

Knowing that this physician had probably not heard of positive psychology or of the new science of character strengths, I explained to her what she had done: amidst the problems and difficulties she had taken time to notice the good, to spot what is strong, to shift from weakness to strength. I told her, in front of the other medical staff and physicians at the “morning rounds,” how much I appreciated what she had done. This feedback seemed to give her a mood boost and I noticed her physician colleagues suddenly jumping on the bandwagon too and wanted to offer their positive feedback as well.

virtuous circle had been created. The strengths-spotting of person to another led to positive feelings which in turn led to further strengths-spotting and positive feelings and so on.

Want to get better at strengths-spotting? It will lift your mood and the mood of others. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Practice observing people. At your next social event, emphasize listening and looking over speaking.
  • Put on “strengths goggles” by listening/looking for strengths in the people around you. It might be helpful to have this list of character strengths in front of you.
  • Label the positive in a precise way (e.g., “I see bravery in you”)
  • Offer an example or rationale for the strength you see (e.g., “I see fairness in you because you always seem to stick up for other people”).
  • Make your feedback to people genuine and honest.
  • Keep your feedback relevant to the situation you are in.


VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)

VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)

VIA Survey (the research-validated test)

VIA resources (for practitioners, managers, educators, and other professionals)

“Character Day” is Today: Join 1,500 Schools & Organizations

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 1 min read

Science of Character
You’ll be glad you spent 8 minutes watching this movie on YouTube here.

  • Who am I?
  • Who do I want to become?

These are questions asked by humans throughout history. You might be asking these questions yourself. Following the groundbreaking scientific VIA Classification of human strengths (which some call “The Periodic Table of Character Strengths”), there is now a framework for discussing these questions.

And, what would be a better way to explore character strengths than to watch a movie about it!?

Continue reading… »

Strengths: Nature, Nurture, or Both?

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 3 min read

It is probably not useful to ask the age-old question whether our core strengths of character are more a product of our genes or our environment. When it comes to our personality, the answer is almost always – “both are important.” And, some scientists believe that with the advancements in epigenetics and the study of the interaction of our gene and environment, that the nature/nurture question becomes rhetorical and fruitless, similar to the question: What contributes more to the area of a rectangle – the height or the width?

Instead of viewing which is “more,” we can attempt to learn from both sides and make this immediately practical.

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A Happiness Strategy for the New Year

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 2 min read

Think about the best things in your life. What would your life be like without your supportive spouse, your good health, your house, or your college degree?

When it comes to creating more happiness in life, experts usually tell us to add more things—get a dog, build a friendship, add a gratitude list, etc. But, what about taking things away? Subtraction. Could that make us happier?

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From Self-Criticism to Self-Inquiry

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 2 min read

Question mark - professional
Many times after a business or work meeting, especially those involving one-on-one interaction, I would leave the meeting and a voice in my head would say:

  • You should have said _____.
  • Why didn’t you bring up _____? Why did you hold back?
  • You could have been smoother when you were discussing ____.
  • The other person wasn’t receptive to my idea about ___. I should have explained it better.

And on and on my thinking would go.

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Five Strengths for Greater Happiness

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 4 min read

The science of positive psychology has revealed several character strengths that are particularly connected with higher levels of happiness. Over and over again studies show these five strengths might be considered “the happiness strengths”:

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Love and Mindfulness: A Virtuous Circle

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 2 min read

Sometimes people in the world of strengths make this comment: “I already use my strengths. Why should I bother to use them more?” Here’s a story to explain why:

Last week, I sat down and watched my mother and my wife express love to my 2-month old son who had not yet expressed verbal coos. The love they expressed was so genuine and pure. Warmth and care radiated from them as they passed this warmth on to my son. They cupped their hands behind his little head and placed their face about a foot from his face and gave him full attention. They talked to him, made noises, and encouraged him. He returned their gaze, offered an original smile, and began to coo.

This is extraordinary, actually, as he hadn’t been cooing the prior 2 months. These simple loving expressions seemed to catalyze his interaction. He cooed (i.e., talked) back. They continued this process, over and over. Emanating joy and love. Suddenly, a conversation emerged! Words to coos, coos to words, words to coos. Back and forth.

I watched this and felt inspired to use my strength of love more. Interestingly, love is perhaps my highest signature strength (signature strengths, you might recall, are those character strengths that are most core to who you are). I use my strength of love all the time, especially with my two boys. But, this doesn’t mean I use it enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t have strength “blind spots.” And, it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to improve this signature strength.

As I observe this strength of love in action, I feel inspired to mimic the behavior. Observing this love in action tunes me in more mindfully to my strengths. This leads me to then want to imitate the behavior I’m observing – or, at the very least, to tap into one of my strengths of character. As the father of observational learning, Albert Bandura has said, “Most of what we learn is through observation.”

What emerges is what I call a virtuous circle:


This mindful awareness (observing others express love) leads me to feel love (my signature character strength). This felt love then drives me to want to be more mindful (watch my own behavior closely and find more opportunities for strength expression), which leads me to be more deliberate in my behavior (consciously expressing love in the near future). This virtuous circle becomes clear: mindfulness → character strengths → mindfulness → character strengths. Each positively influencing the other.

Lesson learned: Never take your signature strengths for granted. There’s always more to learn.

Lesson learned: Watching others can make your signature strengths even stronger.

Lesson learned: Mindfulness practice and character strengths use create a virtuous circle of goodness to benefit yourself and others.


I’d like to express gratitude to Rachelle Plummer, Sue Popson, and Donna Mayerson, who inspired this blog entry because of their expression of love.


Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Want more info on character strengths?

Learn more here.

And, take the VIA Survey of strengths here.


Inspire Your Strengths (By Getting Rudely Interrupted)

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 2 min read

I learned an important lesson about character strengths this week. I was reminded that one of the core messages about strengths is this: unleash who you are by emitting your strengths out into the world.

While watching free movies about people with developmental disabilities online, I came across a 2.5 minute video that floored me. It is a music video of the pop rock band, Rudely Interrupted, from Australia. The band formed out of a music therapy group, led by band manager, Rohan Brooks. The band, now wildly popular, tours Australia and several other countries.

Take a listen to some of their music here.

What is it that I find most inspiring?

Continue reading… »

New Strategy: “From Mindless to Mindful”

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D • 3 min read

Happy people
First, select one of your “bad” habits or vices. Pick something you are struggling with or bothered by and that you do each day.

Then, consider one way you will bring greater mindfulness to the habit or vice and one way you will use one of your strengths with it.

Finally, apply the strength and mindfulness to your autopilot mind as you do the activity.

This exercise is called “From Mindless to Mindful”

Continue reading… »


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