Character Strengths Positive psychology and character strengths. 2017-12-20T02:46:43Z Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Two Words That Can Boost Your Happiness]]> 2017-12-20T02:46:43Z 2017-12-19T17:42:33Z Gratitude is one of the strengths most closely associated with life satisfaction, happiness, and a living with purpose. What if you took time each day to say “thank you” for […]]]>

Gratitude is one of the strengths most closely associated with life satisfaction, happiness, and a living with purpose. What if you took time each day to say “thank you” for all of the things that you might typically take for granted?

Here I offer you five thank-yous to do today, tomorrow, and every day of your life to reconnect with the gifts you have been given.

  1. Thank you, nature. Wherever you are, there is something in nature to hear, to see, and to appreciate. It might be the sun, the wind, the trees, mountains, a flock of birds, a backyard pond, or one caterpillar. Pausing to give thanks to one element in nature allows you to connect with life outside of yourself, not to mention nature provides a boost to well-being.
  2. Thank you, people who offend me. There’s a good chance you’ll disagree with someone or become upset by something someone says during the holidays. It’s easy to be reactive and to argue. It’s tough to mindfully breathe, speak with care, and/or let it go. It’s even tougher to say “thank you” to those who offend you. But why shouldn’t we thank someone who offers a different viewpoint? Doesn’t this challenge us to be better? Doesn’t it offer us new opportunities to use our strengths such as curiosity toward a new perspective and critical thinking to examine the pros and cons of the opinion? Using our strengths in this way helps us grow. Imagine yourself saying thank you in such a scenario this weekend: What would happen if you did?
  3. Thank you, my loved ones. This is an obvious one. But what is less obvious and something few people do is to offer depth to the gratitude. Rather than – “thank you, mom” or “I’m happy you’re my friend. Thank you,” offer a specific example and rationale for why you appreciate the person. You might say – “thank you, dad, for being there for me after I broke up with my boyfriend. You have always been caring and supportive of me when I’m down and I so appreciate that.”
  4. Thank you, my body and mind. There’s plenty of gratitude to be pushed out to others and the world. What about yourself? (Intrapersonal Gratitude). Give thanks to your body, your mind, and your spirit. You might reply that you have an illness or that your body is breaking down. Isn’t that a time to be even more grateful? To appreciate the vitality that exists within your body and mind? As the prominent spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh observes, this present moment is a wonderful moment because it’s another moment you’re alive. You can smile. You can connect. And, you can appreciate yourself.
  5. Thank you, toothbrush. We take our routines for granted: brushing teeth, washing our body, walking down steps, eating breakfast, driving to work. We are creatures of habit and these routines keep us sane. They sustain us, give our mind mini-relaxation periods, and provide us with a sense of comfort and normalcy. That doesn’t mean we can’t stand to be a bit more mindful of what we are doing. Saying “thank you” to your toothbrush deepens your appreciation of health habits and also breaks you out of your autopilot trance during the day.

Offer these five thank-yous aloud and you’ll be expanding and boosting your gratitude. Express them each day and you will boost your happiness.


Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[New Research To Take You From Surviving to Thriving]]> 2017-11-16T18:36:20Z 2017-11-30T18:36:02Z Who doesn’t want to be thriving in life?! The real question is: how do you get to there? In a recent study, researchers reviewed what was known about how human […]]]>

Who doesn’t want to be thriving in life?! The real question is: how do you get to there?

In a recent study, researchers reviewed what was known about how human beings thrive. They examined personal factors and environmental factors and found that there are certain qualities that contribute to a thriving life. Here I’ll discuss 7 pathways to thriving and the character strengths that support them.

1.) Positive perspective

“I see the good in the future.”

Research shows that having hopeful future expectations, an optimistic attitude, and positive views of your future are linked with greater thriving. This approach helps you cope with stress and adversity by sticking with activities or tasks rather than quitting or avoiding.

Character strengths: clearly the central strength here is hope which means to look positively toward the future, to set your goals and to feel confident you can reach them. The researchers also mention here a link with being honest about one’s values. Honesty might be considered a secondary character strength here dealing with your having integrity with your values, practicing what you preach, and being authentic along the journey forward.

2.) Religiosity and spirituality

“I am connected with the universe in a meaningful way.”

For some people, religious coping, faith, a relationship with a Higher Power, and having a spiritual community are connected with thriving. Other research has shown the importance of practicing one’s religion/spirituality, as opposed to merely having a religion.

Character strengths: the strength of spirituality is broadly viewed as having a sense of meaning and purpose in life which may or may not include formal religion. Personal practices such as meditation and prayer, spending time in nature, and reflecting on the universe are sources of spiritual sustenance for many. When this is connected with other people in community, other strengths emerge such as gratitude, and the gateway to thriving may widen further.

3.) Proactive personality

“I try to challenge myself.”

Proactive people seek out opportunities to be challenged. This is an internal desire you feel when you want to pursue something and to challenge yourself. One example found in research is teachers who engage in purposeful career decision-making are more likely to thrive.

Character strengths: Facing challenges and obstacles is the work of the bravery and perseverance strengths. In addition, I have observed when I am proactive pursuing a new work project I am tapping into my zest strength in that situation while maintaining levels of self-regulation strength to take on the right task and not take on too much. No doubt when you are being proactive you are using more than one character strength in that effort.

4.) Motivation

“I am motivated to grow.”

Research shows people are motivated by their naturally occurring strengths, talents, and interests. These serve as sparks for fueling interest, growth, and learning. Thriving in the workplace is connected with work that is meaningful.

Character strengths: curiosity and love of learning are central to our pursuit of knowledge, ideas, and the development of new skills. Individuals can turn to their highest strengths—signature strengths—as a central source of personal motivation to take action in relationships, work, or play.

5.) Knowledge and learning

“I learn, therefore I know.”

Research shows the desire and commitment to learning is important to thriving not just for certain people but across groups of people.

Character strengths: here researchers suggest a number of strengths that have been found to support thriving under hardship in academic and vocational domains. These include creativity, perspective, appreciation of excellence, and especially love of learning.

6.) Psychological resilience

“I overcome, rise up, and benefit from my struggles.”

When stress and adversity rise, those who thrive are able to be flexible and adaptable and even benefit from the problem. The idea here is to move beyond surviving to thriving. Extra workloads, colleague difficulties, new demands – these become sources not to overcome and “ride out” but to benefit from.

Character strengths: what helps you become more resilient? In researching this area I’ve found links between all 24 character strengths and resilience so we could plug in any of them here. The strength with the most immediate resonance would be perseverance – the capacity to keep going, to overcome obstacles. Other important factors include hope, gratitude, forgiveness, spirituality, curiosity, and kindness.

7.) Social competence

“It matters that I connect with others.”

An important enabler of thriving is to access others, connect with them, and benefit from their social support. The building of social competence matters here, such as skills of peaceful conflict resolution, awareness and appreciation of other cultures, and interpersonal skills.

Character strengths: the strength of social intelligence helps us assess situations and people and respond appropriately. It serves us in sensing what is going on within both ourselves and others and to share those feelings in the spirit of cooperation or connection. Also important here is the strength of love which involves bonding with others, being warm and genuine with them, and giving/receiving that caring support. The justice-oriented character strengths of leadership, fairness, and teamwork are important for building social competence.


Brown, D. J., Arnold, R., Fletcher, D., & Standage, M. (2017). Human thriving A conceptual debate and literature review. European Psychologist, 22(3), 167–179. DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000294

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[How Do You Define Mindfulness?]]> 2017-11-16T18:35:52Z 2017-11-21T18:35:29Z Do you sometimes feel like you are “sleepwalking” through life? Benjamin Franklin once said: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” Mindfulness emphasizes being “purposeful” in you attention […]]]>

Do you sometimes feel like you are “sleepwalking” through life? Benjamin Franklin once said: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”

Mindfulness emphasizes being “purposeful” in you attention as a counterbalance to the automatic pilot default that inhabits our mind most of the time. You can purposefully bring your attention to anything- your child’s smile, to the feeling of the steering wheel, or to the exhale of your breathing.

Let’s explore mindfulness further by examining three popular definitions, culminating to the “official” definition of mindfulness used by scientists.

1.) Mindfulness is letting go of taking things for granted.

This is an emotionally pleasing way to think about mindfulness. We accept the lot we’ve been given in life. We assume and expect things will stay the same. Mindfulness challenges us to awaken from these mind-habits and appreciate the little things. But, this definition lacks a bit in specificity around what is happening when mindfulness is actually practiced.

2.) Mindfulness means to return to the present moment.

A common misconception about mindfulness is that it means to stay in the present moment. People practice meditation and get quickly frustrated by their mind’s disinterest in staying in the present moment. Many will exclaim: “I can’t be mindful. I can’t stay in the moment!” But the reality is no one’s mind stays in the present moment. And, considering the nature of what our mind needs to process and compute in each moment, we would not be able to control our mind to chronically stay. But, we have control over the return. We can always return our mind to the present moment, return it to our breath or our senses which can be found in the present moment. This definition is simplistic and clear but not specific enough.

3.) Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

This is the operational, scientific definition of mindfulness put forth 13 years ago. Sadly, when I’ve mentioned it to thousands of workshop participants over the years, only a handful (maybe 5 percent) have heard of it. This definition is the consensus of a group of distinguished mindfulness researchers who wanted to offer a clear way for future researchers, practitioners, and consumers to understand this ever-growing and popular practice. Otherwise, if mindfulness is referred to in 100 plus ways then everyone is on a different page. Researchers are not studying the same thing. Practitioners are teaching different things. Consumers are left confused and misled. Misconceptions and misinformation become more likely.

This last definition is less catchy and sexy than some of the others but it offers a specific, distinct, and clear way of seeing the broad nature of mindfulness and its immediate fruits. The scientists used the word “self-regulation” to refer to how you can take control of your attention, you can regulate your focus. You might deliberately shift your attention to an image on your computer screen, to the body language of your friend as she speaks, to a memory, a future goal, or to your inbreath. The second part of the definition refers to our approach of being open to whatever we place our attention on, being interested and curious of what we might discover. It might be something pleasant, unpleasant, or boring, and in any case, your openness, curiosity, and acceptance can be deployed.

Each of the definitions brings an interesting and helpful insights but it is the last one that is important for advancing the research and practice of mindfulness.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[How Do You Show Love To Your Colleagues?]]> 2017-10-09T16:16:36Z 2017-10-12T16:15:18Z For many people, it may seem strange to express  love at work, but with a little guidance anyone can see that this character strength has a very important place among […]]]>

For many people, it may seem strange to express  love at work, but with a little guidance anyone can see that this character strength has a very important place among colleagues.

Here’s a conversation I often have with professionals who view the 24 character strengths to help them understand how the strength of love can be appropriately expressed in a workplace:

Manager: “I see how the strengths of perseverance and self-regulation are important at work because employees can learn to work hard, be disciplined, and focus their attention.”

Ryan: “Yes, that’s right!”

Manager: “And, I can even see how strengths like curiosity and gratitude have a place at work because employees can ask one another curious questions, express interest in projects, and they can be grateful and appreciative of the positive that exists at their company.”

Ryan: “Yes, all 24 of the character strengths are highly relevant in the workplace.”

Manager: “But what about love? There’s no place for love in the workplace. This stuff has its limits, right?

Ryan: “Is it not relevant to express warmth and care to your coworkers? To show support and genuineness when a co-worker is upset? To offer the practice of careful listening to customers and thoughtful, mindful speech with your boss?” These are examples of love.

Then they get it. Love simply takes on a different form but it is still love. Love will often be expressed differently at home and in one’s closest relationships, perhaps with hugs, kisses, and loving touch. That is not the way love is expressed in most workplaces.

This shows that all 24 character strengths – which are parts of all of us – not only have a place at work but they are what really matters most in the workplace.

In the last five years, there has been an ever-increasing array of connections between character strengths and work outcomes. Here are 10 of the research benefits to using your character strengths at work right now!

  1. Higher work performance
  2. Less counterproductive work behavior
  3. Better stress management
  4. Greater harmonious passion
  5. Greater flourishing at work
  6. More work-as-a-calling (meaningful work)
  7. More positive work experiences
  8. Greater work engagement
  9. Higher job satisfaction
  10. Increased strengths use the next day

Take simple action

  1. Express love at work by being warm, caring, and genuine to each person you interact with.
  2. Spot character strengths in your colleagues, boss, and subordinates.
  3. Tell one co-worker today why you appreciate them for their particular character strengths.
  4. Align your signature strengths with your daily work tasks.
  5. Use one of your highest strengths in a new way.


Dubreuil, P., Forest, J., Gillet, N., Fernet, C., Thibault-Landry, A., Crevier-Braud, L., & Girouard, S. (2016). Facilitating well-being and performance through the development of strengths at work: Results from an intervention program. Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. DOI 10.1007/s41042-016-0001-8

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2015). The relationships of character strengths with coping, work-related stress, and job satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00165

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012b). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Hone, L. C., Jarden, A., Duncan, S., & Schofield, G. M. (2015). Flourishing in New Zealand workers: Associations with lifestyle behaviors, physical health, psychosocial, and work-related indicators. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(9), 973-983.

Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2016). The wind beneath my wings: The role of social support in enhancing the use of strengths at work. Journal of Career Assessment.

Littman-Ovadia, H., Lavy, S., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2016). When theory and research collide: Examining correlates of signature strengths use at work. Journal of Happiness Studies. Advance online publication.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Flipping the Stigma: Social Anxiety from a Strengths Perspective]]> 2017-09-21T16:05:36Z 2017-09-21T16:05:36Z New research is now flipping the stigma on social anxiety by examining it from a strengths-based perspective, specifically looking at overuse and underuse of strengths.]]>

What words come to mind when you think of “social anxiety”? Most likely words like: fear, embarrassment, self-consciousness? Not anymore. New research is now flipping the stigma on this disorder by examining it from a strengths-based perspective, specifically looking at overuse and underuse of strengths.

It is possible to overuse any of your character strengths. For example, if you use too much curiosity by asking your shy colleague one too many questions, they might start to view you as nosey and bothersome. Conversely, you can underuse your character strengths. For example, if you never give money to an important work charity, year after year, your colleagues might come to view you as low in generosity or underusing your strength of kindness.

Back to social anxiety disorder. How might the underuse and overuse of character strengths be operating here?

My colleagues, Pavel Freidlin and Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, and I investigated this question. We developed a new test called Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU) Survey of Strengths and gave it to people with and without a social anxiety disorder. While there were many interesting findings, one in particular stuck out to me. It turns out a unique combination of six overuses/underuses of strengths could be used to identify people with the disorder from those without (with over 87% accuracy!). This is the first actual study of character strength overuse/underuse to be published.

Here are the six overuses/underuses, along with an explanation of why they are relevant to social anxiety (they are not listed in any order of importance):

1.) Overuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are analyzing your thoughts and feelings too much. You might also be quick to over-analyze the intentions and actions of others.

How this relates to social anxiety: You are probably giving extra attention to your nervousness and worry and less attention to more balanced thoughts and other feelings (such as excitement, interest, and hope). For example, you might see a hand gesture or expression on someone’s face and come to an immediate conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you.

2.) Overuse of humility

What it means: You have little interest in talking about yourself or any of your accomplishments. When people praise you for doing something good, you feel uncomfortable and awkward and say little to nothing.

How this relates to social anxiety: Humility is an important strength and can have social benefits. However, too much humility in certain situations can lead to depriving others of learning about you. If people can’t learn about you, it’s hard for them to connect with you, which can subsequently contribute to sub-optimal social situations.

3.) Underuse of zest

What it means: If others perceive you as coming across without even a moderate amount of energy, you might be perceived as uninterested or lacking in enthusiasm. Zest is one of the character strengths most connected with happiness, so in some situations, you might even come across as “unhappy.”

How this relates to social anxiety: In order to contribute to social situations, you need to express energy. If you are bringing forth too little of energy, you won’t contribute as much. This underuse feeds your “avoidance” mechanism which is a problem because “avoidance of fear” is a hallmark feature of all types of anxiety. Socially anxious people avoid what they are afraid of, which further perpetuates the cycle of anxiety. Underuse of zest feeds this process.

4.) Underuse of humor

What it means: In some social situations, you are especially serious and don’t smile, joke, laugh, or see the lighter side of things. While that might be appropriate behavior at times, there are situations where humor is particularly important—take, for example, socializing with friends or co-workers at a restaurant.

How this relates to social anxiety: Socially, humor and playfulness are kings (or queens). People generally want to be around funny or playful people. They want to laugh and have a good time. If you underuse humor in social situations, you are essentially eliminating one of the main pathways to connecting and socializing with others.

5.) Underuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are not particularly attuned to your own feelings or the feelings of others. You pay little attention to social cues, body language, or the circumstances of the social situation you are in.

How this relates to social anxiety: Social situations often require a subtle and nuanced level of awareness of feelings and circumstance. People unaware of their own feelings, unable to speak appropriately to those feelings, unaware of how others might be feeling, or unaware of how to query and discuss others’ feelings are at a significant disadvantage. Furthermore, those who sense this reality within themselves are prone to feel more anxious about this disconnect. People with social anxiety may also misinterpret cues or misread body language, further contributing to the problem.

6.) Underuse of self-regulation

What it means: You have some difficulties in managing your reactions to others or in managing your feelings or personal habits. You may come across as lacking discipline (in your speech and behavior).

How this relates to social anxiety: The best social interactions involve a balanced back and forth of questioning, sharing, and communicating. If your self-regulation is particularly low in these situations, you may appear insensitive to others. This can impact the interaction and contribute to anxiety.

Taking action:

1.) The first step is awareness. If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, what is it like for you (or for them) to look at anxiety in this way? The best course of action with this new research is to reflect on how you might be overusing or underusing these particular character strengths in social situations. This will lead you to new insights and ideas for taking action.

2.) Think about social anxiety from the lens of overuse and underuse. This does not mean you have to get rid of deficit-based thinking or attending to symptoms and other parts that feel “wrong” about you. Instead, you now have an empowering language and a new lens for looking at this challenge.


There are different subtypes of social anxiety disorder that I have not addressed in this article. These are quite wide-range, for example, there are social fears involving eating in restaurants, giving presentations, and using public restrooms, to name a few. Thus, the overuse/underuse of these character strengths will need to be adapted accordingly.

Remember, this is a new study so it is important to have these findings replicated in additional studies. If these findings above are also found in future research, this could lead to new treatment approaches to this relatively common and painful condition.


Want to do research on overuse/underuse?

Scientists and student researchers can use the new Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU) Survey of Strengths for free in their research. Go to this link here to take action.


Freidlin, P., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Positive psychopathology: Social anxiety via character strengths underuse and overuse. Personality and Individual Differences, 108, 50–54.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Discover Your Strengths From 6 Different Angles]]> 2017-08-10T14:50:21Z 2017-08-21T14:09:38Z Your strengths are multidimensional; there are countless ways to view, appreciate and boost them. In this post we’ll review 6 ways your strengths can be grouped into “types” to widen your […]]]>

Your strengths are multidimensional; there are countless ways to view, appreciate and boost them. In this post we’ll review 6 ways your strengths can be grouped into “types” to widen your strengths perspective and learn different ways they can be cultivated to help you live your best life.

1. Signature Strengths

These are the character strengths that are most central to who you are and best capture your uniqueness. Think of these strengths as your three E’s: they are essential (the strength is essential to your personality), energizing (you feel a boost of joy or energy while using the strength), and easy (the strength comes naturally to you to use, you don’t have to think about it). These are the strengths that come up highest in your VIA Survey results profile. Studies are showing that using these strengths in new ways is associated with long-term happiness and less depression.

What are your signature strengths? How might you bring forth one of them right now?

2. Happiness Strengths

Across several studies in different cultures, a handful of character strengths repeatedly emerge as most correlated with life satisfaction, a type of happiness (and have also been shown to cause happiness). Those strengths, starting from (typically) the strongest correlation are zesthopelovegratitude, and curiosityStudies are showing that these strengths are especially important for psycho-emotional factors at work, such as having more work meaning and engagement.

Which of the five happiness strengths do you want to build up in your life?

3. Lower Strengths

Sometimes called lesser strengths or bottom strengths, these character strengths emerge in the bottom four to seven. These are not weaknesses or problems or deficits. Rather, these strengths are those you likely have not spent time developing or valuing, compared to your other character strengths. Studies have shown that focusing on a lower strength can boost your happiness and decrease depression.

Name your lowest character strengths. Is there one strength that you’d like to use more of your life?

4. Phasic Strengths

These are your “rise to the occasion” strengths. This means that when a given situation demands use of a particular strength that is not your signature strength, you are able to not only call the strength forward but you do so strongly and adaptively. The classic example is you come upon a person who is in trouble and you exert your bravery to help them. A more “everyday” example would be you realize a new work project is going to require extensive organizing and planning and so you bring forth your prudence over a period of time to map everything out in great detail.

When you have “risen to the occasion” in your life? What strengths were you using?

5. Middle Strengths

These character strengths support or readily enhance your signature strengths. These are also referred to as “supportive strengths,” as these round out the middle of your character strengths profile.

Choose one of your middle strengths. How might you use this strength to make one of your highest strengths even stronger? Or make it more balanced? You might use self-regulation to temper your curiosity strength at a meeting or you might use your hope strength by being optimistic about a difficult relationship to help you activate more perseverance in sticking with that relationship through challenging times.

6. Lost Strengths

These are character strengths you have allowed to go dormant for a period of time or they have simply eroded from your conscious awareness and use. Perhaps one of your best qualities like perseverance or bravery was consistently squashed by an authority figure (e.g., parent, teacher, manager, sport coach, sibling, friend) or perhaps your critical thinking and love of learning strengths were discouraged due to cultural or social constraints. A lost strength can conceivably be any character strength in your profile (e.g., a signature strength, a lesser strength).

Take Action


Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Conquer Your Dreaded Tasks… With Pleasure!]]> 2017-08-10T14:49:44Z 2017-08-10T14:47:55Z Think of a task that you dread (ie: folding laundry, sitting in traffic, data entry at work, etc.). What if I told you there was a way to make this […]]]>

Think of a task that you dread (ie: folding laundry, sitting in traffic, data entry at work, etc.). What if I told you there was a way to make this annoying chore more enjoyable? There is a way and we’ll tell you about it here…

Harvard scientist, Ellen Langer, conducted a study in which she randomly divided people into 2 groups, asking both groups to do an activity they did not like (something mundane or boring such as vacuuming, doing dishes, or dusting the house). For one of the two groups, she added an instruction – while you are doing the activity you dislike, pay attention to 3 novel things while you do the activity. For example, those who chose washing the dishes as their “disliked activity” might pay attention to the multitude of little bubbles the soap creates, the weight of each dish, and the engravings on the plates. The groups then reported back to the experimenter. The findings revealed that those participants in the novelty group reported enjoying the boring activity more and they also reported doing the activity more on their own after the experiment was over!

Character strengths – in this case the strength of curiosity – helped to transform the boring and the mundane. It brought the participants to not abhor and avoid such tasks but quite the opposite, to actually engage in them more.

Let’s put this into action for a more complex task – one that is often boring and avoided by many people: the task of transforming or organizing your workspace (or a space at home).

What follows is an example of a stepwise approach in which various character strengths, starting with curiosity, can be applied to not only complete the task but to enjoy it more. Why not turn to your natural energy reserves to help you? Research shows it works so let’s put it to the test! These 5 steps might be referred to as a “space audit” you conduct on your environment:

1.) Turn your attention to your work-space. Use your curiosity to ask questions such as:

  • What is currently working well in my work-space?
  • What about my space enhances my energy and makes me feel good?
  • What in my work-space drains me?
  • How might I bring more of “me” into my space?
  • How might I express my personal values in this space (e.g., family, hard work, friends, spirituality)?

Be curious and reflect on what emerges for you.

2.) Tap into your strength of creativity.

Allow new ideas to pop up in your mind. Let go of your “judging” mind and inner critic. Instead, be open to all ideas as you brainstorm the possibilities of what your work-space could be like.

3.) Use your prudence strength to organize.

Prudence can help you map out your ideas, plan, and decide what you would like to implement. To be practical (i.e., prudent), start with one idea and take action. This might be to organize a drawer, to add some new photos, to bring in a plant, or to move some furniture.

4.) Stay focused, using your self-regulation strength.

When you get distracted or lose interest in your space audit, use your strength of self-regulation to stay focused and return to the task at hand. Repeat, again and again.

5.) Use your strength of appreciation of beauty to savor what you’ve done, each step of the way.

Sit, breathe, and observe your space. Pause. Allow yourself to feel joy, excitement, or even peace as you observe your “new” or emerging space. Prolong the positive feelings. Appreciate your space.

Check out this video on conducting a space audit at work!

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Doesn’t Matter Your Political Party – All Are Stressing Us Out]]> 2017-05-24T03:08:01Z 2017-05-23T15:11:31Z How do we manage this stress? We should look to our strengths. The future of America is a significant source of stress for most citizens, a new study by the […]]]>

How do we manage this stress? We should look to our strengths.

The future of America is a significant source of stress for most citizens, a new study by the American Psychological Association finds.

The survey reviewed the most common stress-management tools that Americans are currently using. I highlight these tools and weave in suggestions for using your character strengths to help you make the most of the strategy:

  1. Exercising or walking: a great way to use your strength of zest, and also your appreciation of beauty for your environment.
  2. Reading: tap your love of learning and curiosity by picking up some new books, fiction or non-fiction.
  3. Spending time with family and friends: any of the 24 character strengths can be harnessed to improve our relationships. When you spend time with close others, try bringing forth extra levels of social intelligenceforgiveness, and fairness in your interactions.
  4. Watching TV: practice spotting the strengths of characters in the sitcom, series, or movie you are watching. What are the characters’ signature strengths?
  5. Praying: clearly this involves bringing your spirituality strength forward, but perhaps also you might infuse your prayer-life with creativity (mix up your approach), gratitude (a deliberate practice of thanks), and critical thinking (being open to other points of view).

Additional stress management tools, although not mentioned in the APA survey, include:

  1. Mindfulness: short-circuit your stressful nature with the mindful pause. This strategy is being used by millionsof people and requires two simple steps you can do anytime during the day – a.) Pause to feel your in breath and out breath for 15 seconds; b.) ask yourself which character strength might you bring forth in the moment.
  2. Gratitude practice: there are many practices but the most scientific and popular is to count your blessings at the end of each day. Name three things you are grateful for that occurred during the day and ponder why they happened.
  3. Kindness practice: the “pay-it-forward” effect has scientific evidence to support it. When someone does something – anything – nice for you, pay the kindness forward by offering a thoughtful action to 1 to 3 people that day.
  4. Curiosity practice: choose an activity you find boring or dull that you have to do each week or each day. While you do the activity, pay attention to three novel/unique features (e.g., use your five senses). This activity will help you enjoy the activity more and will expand your curiosity.
  5. Signature strengths practice: there are always new ways we can use our best qualities and research shows doing so provides a lasting boost to happiness and a reduction of depression. Select one of your best qualities. Expand how you think about this strength. Allow yourself to use it differently each day.



Baker, W., & Bulkley, N. (2014). Paying it forward versus rewarding reputation: Mechanisms of generalized reciprocity. Organization Science, 25(5), 1493–1510.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.

Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1241–1259.

Langer, E. J. (1997). The power of mindful learning. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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

Pressman, S. D., Kraft, T. L., & Cross, M. P. (2015). It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a “pay it forward” style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(4), 293–302.

Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Buschor, C. (2013). 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, 14(1), 275–292.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[Want the Benefits of Religion? You must Practice.]]> 2017-04-18T21:19:44Z 2017-04-18T15:57:56Z There are major benefits to practicing your religion. New studies show benefits like kindness, love, forgiveness and gratitude are directly related to practicing your religion. Key word: practice. Over 20,000 […]]]>

There are major benefits to practicing your religion.

New studies show benefits like kindness, love, forgiveness and gratitude are directly related to practicing your religion. Key word: practice.

Over 20,000 people across three countries were examined by Willibald Ruch and Anne Berthold and put into three groups:

1.) Those who have a religious affiliation and practice it.

2.) Those who have a religious affiliation (members of a community) and do NOT practice it.

3.) Those who do NOT have a religious affiliation.

They discovered that ONLY the first group (those who practice their religion) were the ones who experienced various benefits. They were higher in:

This is consistent with research by Chris Peterson and colleagues who found that the character strengths most connected with a meaningful life were religiousness, zest, hope, and gratitude.

Caveats to the Study

This study is a start to bringing character into the discussion of spirituality and religion. Note that the study was not nuanced enough to examine the different types of religions; or to tease out agnostic versus atheist; or to examine the infamous category of “spiritual but not religious” (the latter of which has been one of the fastest growing spirituality groups in the United States for over a decade). A next-level study would more closely examine each participant’s perception of what it means to be religious, to be spiritual, and to practice or not practice. This study assessed religion in an oversimplified way that did not explore these important distinctions.

This study also does not tackle the “why” question: Why are there benefits to the practice of religion? Many argue (and some find this in research too) that the benefit of practicing religion mainly falls upon the social and community benefits. People connect with people in religious institutions. They feel a strong sense of belonging. They sense they are part of something important, something greater than themselves. In addition, there are often the benefits that come from helping others less fortunate, from being kind and generous, from going the extra mile in volunteering, advocating for social justice, and taking on a leadership role.

There is much to explore with the connection between character strengths and religiousness and/or spirituality. No doubt, our identity – our character strengths – play an important role in whatever our affiliation or lack thereof may be.

Make It Practical

Here’s my takeaway for each of the 3 groups that were examined in this study.

You have a religion and you practice it.

  • This research shows that you’re more likely to experience benefits by practicing your religion than not. What is it about the practice of your religion that you find most beneficial? How might you ensure you maintain your practice? How do you connect with “the sacred” or “the holy” in your spiritual engagement? How might you use yourcharacter strengths in the process?

You have a religion but do not practice it.

  • Ask yourself about your barriers to practicing? How might yoursignature strengths – those highest within you – help you to overcome your barriers? What might you want to explore in terms of your religion, other religions, or spiritual practices? What do you sense would be your best action to align who you are with where you are currently at in your spiritual journey?

You don’t have a religion.

  • What are your pathways to finding and expressing meaning in your life? What experiences have you had that you would describe as awe-inducing, sacred, holy, or left you filled with wonder? How might you tap into those experiences more frequently in your life?
  • If you view yourself as “spiritual but not religious,” how do you most fully express your spirituality? Whatcharacter strengths are central to your own spiritual journey?



Berthold, A., & Ruch, W. (2014). Satisfaction with life and character strengths of nonreligious and religious people: It’s practicing one’s religion that makes the difference. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00876

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-004-1278-z

VIA Institute on Character:

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D <![CDATA[A Few New Mindfulness Activities]]> 2017-03-19T18:47:41Z 2017-03-08T14:46:27Z The mindful pause is a strategy I introduced last year. It relies on tapping into your natural strengths right away.  It can be very effective and has just two simple steps: […]]]>

The mindful pause is a strategy I introduced last year. It relies on tapping into your natural strengths right away.  It can be very effective and has just two simple steps:

1.) Take 15 seconds to feel your inhale and exhale.

2.) Think to yourself: Which of my character strengths might I bring forth right now?

Why use The Mindful Pause?

This approach clears the dust of your autopilot mind and opens you to see your inner potential. It short-circuits your autopilot mind and brings you to the experience of the present moment. This involves trusting yourself that a relevant strength will emerge. It involves being open to what might be possible. It involves metacognition to watch your mind and to see what surfaces to the forefront of your attention. It involves intuition, a sense of knowing what is there, within you. And, it involves courage to then “go with” the strength that surfaces.

This activity works like a home-run for me (see several examples here) and for many practitioners and educators (see several examples from helping professionals here). But, of course, it’s not for everyone.

Therefore, I’ve devised 5 additional “mindful pauses” that widen the reach to more people.

1.) Mindful Pause – Your Signature.

a.) Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.

b.) Mentally review your top 5 strengths, seeing each one clearly in your mind’s eye.

c.) Ask yourself: Which of these 5 strengths might I bring forth right now?

Why use this? We use our signature strengths throughout the day, often without knowing it. This activity helps us remember who we are. It’s a natural energizer too.

2.) Mindful Pause – Your Role.

a.) Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.

b.) Ask yourself: What’s my role here, in this situation? How might I honor this role more fully?

Why use this? In any situation, we have some “role” we are playing. It could be the role of father or sister, of boss or of colleague. Maybe it’s simply the role of participant, employee, or listener. Whatever the role, we could probably embody the role more deeply, genuinely, with greater mindfulness and strength, right?

This activity leads me in certain situations to try to be “the best nephew I can be” or “the best colleague” I can be in a particular situation. When we remind ourselves of the role we are in, our strengths use becomes more context-specific. We shift from mindless expressions of just being honest or curious or creative. We shift to mindful strength use. Our expression becomes more balanced, context-focused, and role-appropriate.

3.) Mindful Pause – A Specific Strength.

a.) Choose any of the 24 character strengths you would like to use in the situation you are in or are about to be in.

b.) Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.

c.) Call forth the strength you’ve chosen and breathe for another 15-20 seconds, knowing you have this strength within you and you’ve used it in the past.

Why use this? Research shows that we can develop our character strengths. Despite our character being a stable part of our personality, recent studies are showing our personality can change through our deliberate efforts. This means that if we want to become kinder, funnier, more grateful, or more creative, we can!

4.) Mindful Pause – Your Goodness.

a.) Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.

b.) Ask yourself the question. How might I bring forth goodness in this moment?

Why use this? Goodness can be expressed in a virtually infinite number of forms. For example, you might compliment a colleague, you might express kindness inward and be good to yourself, or you might express one of your strengths in a stronger way to benefit someone. To take on an attitude of goodness is to become “other-oriented.”

5.) Mindful Pause – Just Be.

a.) Pause for 10-15 seconds. Feel the fullness of each inhale and each exhale.

b.) Remind yourself that nothing else matters right now other than simply breathing and being there for your breath.

Why use this? All-too-often we push ourselves to do more, accomplish more, be more. This can be a great attitude and approach but it has its limitations. Our minds also need to pause and “just be” with our experience – not having to change anything, not having to do anything. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has famously said: We need to bring the” being” back into human beings. Often, we are human “doers” above everything else. This activity reminds us of that wisdom.

Which Mindful Pause is the best fit for you right now?


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

Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

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.

VIA Institute on Character: