When it comes to many things in our lives we all seem to have an intuitive knowledge that our strengths are what will propel us through life with the most advantageous outcomes. We focus on strengths when hiring recruits, looking for a spouse or building a team.
When battling emotional problems however, we often focus solely on the diagnosis, the symptoms of the diagnosis and all the issues that the identified problem causes us.
Positive psychology utilizes and focuses on the concept of strengths in treating depression and anxiety to a great deal. It is in fact a very exciting field and has much to offer treatment based psychology as a practice. Strengths are where our greatest successes can happen, where we will grow the most and where we will experience greater energy and happiness.
Even if you find yourself at a time in your life when you have depression, anxiety and panic or have experienced some terrible event, you have strengths. The focus on these strengths is what will take you through. But if you think about it, these are the times we usually focus on these unpleasantries as they have a way of taking over.
Many clients are initially taken aback or even opposed to the idea that focusing on strengths or other things besides the diagnosis can provide effective treatment. The feel that to indicate a strengths based treatment can help them somehow minimizes the extent of their difficulty. This is not true. One of the very worst symptoms of depression can be to give up hope that things will ever be better. Allowing an individual to see what their strengths are and how to use them provides the very hope that they need in order to get well.
The research in positive psychology has actually given us the following information:
- Identifying your strengths is associated with higher happiness and lower rates of depression.
- Using your strengths consciously over the course of a week is associated with higher happiness and lower rates of depression.
- Therapy that uses an explicit strengths based focus has been found to outperform “therapy as usual” and “therapy plus anti-depressant medication” in comparison groups.
Strengths will help us achieve what we are looking to achieve and enjoy our lives to the fullest.
Strengths in the language of positive psychology are defined as something that seems to come naturally to you and that you are good at. Everyone has them. They are the personal attributes that perhaps others have commented on or noticed in you. Sense of humor, empathy, leadership, the ability to speak or perform, all of these are examples of possible strengths.
Energy is a hallmark feature of a strength. When you are using a strength you may feel a burst of enthusiasm, this is an indication that your strengths are in play. You may be good at something but if you don’t feel a burst of enthusiasm when dealing with it it is probably not a strength.
When you are using your strengths you may feel that you have really come alive, you may become more animated, more alert, use more hand gestures or even talk faster. These are all indicators that your strengths are in play.
Here Are Three Simple Ways to Identify Your Strengths
- What are some of the things you are most proud of in your past?
- What energizes you the most in the present?
- What are you looking forward to in the near future?
Your answers to these questions will help you to identify what your strengths are as well as when you may have used them before.
Focusing on and building your life around these answers are what can help move you from a depression or anxiety based life to one of more happiness and satisfaction. It is not to say you won’t experience some negative emotions but you will find your way through these times faster and with more positive results.
The Authentic Happiness website offers a test you can take called The VIA Survey of Character Strengths. It is free and provides you with a full readout. It is fun and interesting to take. You just need to provide them with an email address to register to take the tests. They offer many other questionaires as well, take as many as you feel might be helpful.
Make sure you answer the questions honestly so you get a true result. There is a phenomenon in test taking where you might choose the selection that sounds most socially acceptable but isn’t truly what you feel. The test is anonymous so don’t worry about it. Answer how you truly feel.
Go to the Authentic Happiness website at
Go to the menu tab marked Questionnaires and choose the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
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