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Strengths-Spotting Your Way to Happiness (Part 1)

Strengths-spotting is one of the best, initial activities that deepens our understanding of our strengths and the strengths of others.

There are 2 general levels to strengths-spotting: 1.) Spotting strengths in action in others and 2.) Spotting strengths in action in oneself.

This blog entry will focus on spotting strengths in others and a follow-up entry will focus on oneself.

In workshops I ask people which is easier to do. Overwhelming, people say it’s easier to spot strengths in others. Therefore, your relationships are a good place to start.

Here are 5 steps to improve your strengths-spotting ability.

1.)    Build a language. First, you need to understand what you are looking for. Having a coherent strengths language will allow you to prime yourself on what to look for in others. The VIA Classification of 24 strengths provides a framework for building in a meaningful and systematic vocabulary.

2.)    Fine tune your observation and listening skills. What do strengths look like in action? The idea here is to look for a shifts in energy, on both a verbal and a nonverbal level.

  • Look for nonverbal cues that a strength is present by looking for improved posture, better eye contact, the eyes “lighting up,” more smiling or laughing, increased use of hand gestures, and the expression of positive emotions such as joy, excitement, and hope. I ask participants in workshops around the world what they notice nonverbally and one of the responses someone always exclaims is they notice “the eyes light up.”
  • On a verbal level, listen for a stronger, more assertive voice, improved vocabulary and clarity of speech, and use of strength words. Some people might be quicker and even tangential in their speech because they are excited about the topic while others speak more slowly and are more methodical in their delivery.

3.)    Label and explain character strength behaviors. First, give the strengths that you spot a label; second, provide the rationale for how you saw the strength being expressed, and third, if appropriate, express appreciation for the person’s strength. For example:

  • “John, I was impressed by how well you kept your cool during that heated debate at our meeting yesterday. That took a lot of self-control on your part!”
  • “Mom, you seem to always offer me warmth and kind words at just the right time. This is exactly what helps me feel cared for and supported. I want you to know how much I value your love.”

4.)    Build a habit by maintaining your strengths-spotting. Repeat the above phases through practice and more practice. Like any developing skill, observing for character strengths needs to become an ongoing practice for it to build.  You might wish to deepen your skill of recognizing character strengths in action by keeping a log (mental or written) of behavioral expressions of character strengths.

Getting Practical:

At your next work meeting or family gathering, enter the environment wearing “strengths goggles.” This means walk in with a mindset to look for strengths as they occur. Spot your co-worker asking lots of questions (curiosity) or collaborating on a project (teamwork). Notice when your mother puts her arm around you when she speaks (love) or when your brother keeps the family entertained with a funny story (humor).

After you spot the strength(s), if the timing is right, tell the person how you value their strength use. Express your appreciation. Name the strength that you saw them use and share the rationale for your observation.

Interesting in learning more?

There’s still time to sign up for the VIA Institute’s flagship course on character strengths! You learn about research, practices, using strengths to deal with problems, strengths overuse, the golden mean, and much more. Click here.

Strengths-Spotting Your Way to Happiness (Part 1)

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D

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APA Reference
Niemiec, R. (2019). Strengths-Spotting Your Way to Happiness (Part 1). Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Mar 2019
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