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”:
Are you high in any of these character strengths? According to research by the VIA Institute, over 75% of people have one of these strengths in their top 5.
Looking to boost one of these strengths? No problem. There are plenty of tips to go around and research studies are revealing good benefits for people that focus on boosting these strengths. Here are some activities to get you started:
Activity to Boost Zest:
Get active! Engaging in physical exercise has been shown to increase energy levels and improve endurance. All you need is 30 minutes a day and you will notice a difference in your spirit and vitality. Pick a physical activity that sounds fun to you, such as ice-skating, hiking, touch football, skiing, etc. and do it! You will be boosting your strength of zest AND improving your physical and psychological wellness.
Activity to Boost Hope:
Take a moment to think about the upcoming year and imagine your best possible self coming forward. Imagine that you are engaging in activities that are pleasing and you are working towards goals that are important to you. After you get a clear image write out the details. Writing about your best possible self helps to create a logical structure for the future and can help you move from the realm of foggy ideas to concrete, real possibilities.
Activity to Boost Gratitude:
Put you pen to paper (or your fingers to your keyboard) and write a letter to someone you are grateful to. Think of a person who has had a particular impact on you that you have not properly thanked. Reflect on how you have positively benefited from their actions and then write them a letter expressing your gratitude. You might consider taking an additional step by calling the person on the phone or arranging to meet them in person and read the letter aloud to them. The experience will likely be rewarding for you and the other person!
Activity to Boost Curiosity:
Think of an activity that you dislike, such as washing dishes, paying bills, or folding laundry. Next time you are engaging in this activity focus on 3 novel or unexpected features of the action. For instance, if your low-interest activity is dish-washing, maybe focus on the smell of the soap, the heaviness of the pot, and the warmth of the sudsy water. Can you find one thing surprising about this humdrum activity?
Activity to Boost Love:
Engage in loving-kindness meditation. Find a comfortable space to sit quietly and practice wishing yourself and others happiness and peace. The standard loving-kindness mediation studied by researchers and used in mindfulness programs is as follows:
This type of meditation has been connected with many physical and psychological benefits.
Try one of these exercises and watch the benefits unfold.
Let me know what you observe in yourself and others. Add your comments below!
Want to learn more about character strengths?
VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)
VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test)
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062.
Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies.
Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Layous, K., Nelson, S. K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). What is the optimal way to deliver a positive activity intervention? The case of writing about one’s best possible selves. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(2), 635-654.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.
Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beermann, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149–156.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Buschor, C. (2012). Testing strengths-based interventions: A preliminary study on the effectiveness of a program targeting curiosity, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest for enhancing life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies.
Salzberg, S. (1995). Lovingkindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Shimai, S., Otake, K., Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Convergence of character strengths in American and Japanese young adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 311–322.
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Last reviewed: 27 Nov 2013