General Articles

The Dark Side of Character

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Please Don't Go

[Spoiler alert: Please be forewarned that I reveal some key plot developments of the popular novel, Gone Girl]

As I read Gillian Flynn’s bestselling book, Gone Girl, I was not expecting to learn much about positive psychology but instead to learn more about what is often discussed in regard to this book – the mind of the psychopath.

Your Vote is Probably Based on Character

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Just a month ago the VIA Institute on Character launched a new survey that asked people what character strengths are essential in a great President. The survey then invited the user to rate the character strengths of the Presidential candidates.

The results are in!…just in time for Election Day. I’ll start with the conclusions and then offer more details.


  1. Regardless of political affiliation or preference in this election, the top 4 character strengths of the “ideal President” are:

The Strengths Junkie Plays Chess

Friday, October 5th, 2012


I’m a bit of a “strengths” junkie. I study character strengths. I read about them, e-mail about them, teach and write about them, and study them. It seems that I’m thinking about character strengths much of the time – which one’s I’m using, how strengths work together, how they can hurt me, and how they can help me be my best.

So, it was no surprise when my mind started rattling off the character strengths I was using while playing online chess.

A Mother’s Day Challenge

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Love and a Prius
Holidays are catalysts for character strengths.

Each holiday poses a special opportunity to awaken us from our slumber and activate one or more strengths.  It seems that in the U.S., the culture collectively turns its attention to a particular strength each holiday. Consider the following:

  • Thanksgiving – gratitude
  • Christmas/Hanukkah – kindness/generosity and for some, spirituality
  • Easter (i.e., the weeks leading up to it) – self-regulation
  • 4th of July – zest
  • New Years Day – hope

What about Mother’s Day? Many strengths are great contenders on this holiday. However, it is unlikely that any can topple the importance of love.

Can Character Strengths Save Your Life?

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Sanibel Trip - April 2012 - Gators in the Refuge

I recently watched the reenactment of a story of a young man, Dave, who decided he would impress a group of friends by swimming across a Florida canal to a pier and back. Dave’s friends were gathered at a cottage home, celebrating a recent college graduation. They were busy reminiscing, telling stories from their recent past and speculating where they might find themselves a year or two from now.

When Dave suggested he would dive in and swim to the pier, the friends softly resisted but they knew that once Dave got an idea in his head he refused to give it up; it was already a foregone conclusion.

The problem is he went for a swim in water that was teeming with alligators.

The Psychology of the Underdog

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Four wins, 104 losses. That was the all-time record of the teams seeded at #15 heading into this year’s NCAA college basketball tournament for men. This year, in their first game, the #15-seeds went 2-2.

This is why people love the NCAA tournament: A chance to root for the underdog!

Not intimidated by their powerhouse opponents, Norfolk State and Lehigh exercised a David vs. Goliath fearlessness as they competed hard, improving their “fight” as the game progressed. The crowds rallied behind these underdogs excited for the distant possibility of an upset. Many of the fans had never heard of these schools before this month yet fans were jumping up and down with such passion and zest that one would think their own child was playing in the game.

How could this be? What is the psychology behind this underdog phenomena?

Why NCAA Basketball is Good For You!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Buzzer beaters. Cinderellas. Bracket buster upsets. This can only mean one thing. It’s March Madness!

Aside from being happy that your team is in the NCAA tournament and even happier when your team wins its first game, why should you care? Can tuning into college basketball games be good for your health?

Yes, it just might be.

Welcome to Character Strengths

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

I’m pleased to introduce Character Strengths — a blog about positive psychology and figuring out how to best use your inherent character strengths and the positives of your personality. It will highlight character strengths in action in real life, and provide tips, movie examples, inspiration and ideas on how you can improve upon your own character strengths.

Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec is an author, licensed psychologist, and educator. He is Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, an internationally-recognized, nonprofit organization where he leads workshops around the world on the science and practice of character strengths.

Ryan is co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths (2008) and Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology (2005; 2010), and a number of book chapters and articles. He is Associate Editor of the APA journal PsycCRITIQUES and a Consulting Editor to the Journal of Popular Media Culture. You can learn more about him here.

Please give Ryan a warm Psych Central welcome!


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