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What are Your Signature Strengths?

If you’re like most people (myself included), then you have work to do in terms of understanding your strengths. Survey research has found that most people do not have a meaningful awareness of their strengths. What’s more, it’s all-too-common for people to underuse their strengths.

We forget to take notice of our best strengths and find ways to let them loose in our lives. Take Bill, for instance. Bill was surprised to learn that curiosity is a strength of character and moreover, that it is his #1 strength!

Then it hit him: He asks lots of questions, is interested in a many topics, always wants to try new foods, and constantly has the “travel bug” to see new places. Of course, this was his curiosity strength edging at him from within, eager to find a way out.

Since curiosity is a signature strength for Bill, it is very easy for him to be curious in any situation – next to someone on a airplane, with the waiter at a restaurant, or in talking with a new employee. What’s more, it is energizing and uplifting for him to be curious. In short, curiosity is how Bill connects with others.

Janet is another interesting example. Janet discovered her highest strength is prudence. Prudence gets a bad rap. It is often lumped with being a “prude” or someone who doesn’t have fun. In reality, prudence can be seen as “cautious wisdom,” thinking before one speaks, and being careful about one’s choices.

All her life, Janet had beat herself up for not being enough of a risk-taker, not living life fully, and always holding back when new situations arose. But, when viewed as her signature strength, it turns out prudence has served her well. Janet is a successful businesswoman and project manager and sees how this naturally-occurring prudence strength has helped her become who she is today. She is conscientious, goal-oriented, and is well-organized – all common characteristics of a prudent person.

Janet realized that she actually had been living life fully and did take risks, but her approach was to give pause to reflect a bit before taking action. Seeing this, her appreciation for herself deepened.

How about you….what are your signature strengths?

The list below will help you. It is the VIA Classification of character strengths and virtues. Scientists have outlined 6 major categories (called virtues) that provide a framework for 24 character strengths. These strengths have been studied extensively and found to be universally valued and present across cultures and nations.

It’s time for action!

1)      Review the strengths below. Identify which strengths best describe who you are at your core. Which are most energizing, natural for you to use, and widely expressed in your life?

2)      Take the full VIA Survey for free and see how accurate you were at identifying your strengths.

VIA Classification

© Copyright, VIA Institute on Character. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Virtue of Wisdom

  • Creativity: Original; adaptive; ingenuity
  • Curiosity: Interest; novelty-seeking; exploration; openness to experience
  • Judgment: Critical thinking; thinking things through; open-minded
  • Love of Learning: Mastering new skills & topics; systematically adding to knowledge
  • Perspective: Wisdom; providing wise counsel; taking the big picture view

The Virtue of Courage

  • Bravery: Valor; not shrinking from fear; speaking up for what’s right
  • Perseverance: Persistence; industry; finishing what one starts
  • Honesty: Authenticity; integrity
  • Zest: Vitality; enthusiasm; vigor; energy; feeling alive and activated

The Virtue of Humanity

  • Love: Both loving and being loved; valuing close relations with others
  • Kindness: Generosity; nurturance; care; compassion; altruism; “niceness”
  • Social Intelligence: Aware of the motives/feelings of oneself & others

The Virtue of Justice

  • Teamwork: Citizenship; social responsibility; loyalty
  • Fairness: Just; not letting feelings bias decisions about others
  • Leadership: Organizing group activities; encouraging a group to get things done

The Virtue of Temperance

  • Forgiveness: Mercy; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance
  • Humility: Modesty; letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
  • Prudence: Careful; cautious; not taking undue risks
  • Self-Regulation: Self-control; disciplined; managing impulses & emotions

The Virtue of Transcendence

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: Awe; wonder; elevation
  • Gratitude: Thankful for the good; expressing thanks; feeling blessed
  • Hope: Optimism; future-mindedness; future orientation
  • Humor: Playfulness; bringing smiles to others; lighthearted
  • Spirituality: Religiousness; faith; purpose; meaning


Biswas-Diener, R. (2006). From the equator to the North Pole: A study of character strengths. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 293-310.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious? New York: HarperCollins.

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry. CAPP Press.

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.

What are Your Signature Strengths?

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D

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APA Reference
Niemiec, R. (2012). What are Your Signature Strengths?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Apr 2012
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