How many compliments did you receive today? How many people told you how they thought you were so amazing and wonderful today? How often do you tell yourself, “Damn, I am a really great person and I have so many wonderful aspects to my personality!” How often do you tell someone what you appreciate about them or what strengths you see in them?
My guess is not every day! We live in a society that is focused on what is wrong with us, what we need to fix about ourselves, things we can be better at.
Yet how much has such focusing on what's wrong with you helped you achieve greater happiness?
The great news is that there is another way that and it's blowing the traditional approach out of the water with its effectiveness!
It is called the Values in Action (VIA) Signature Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2003). This typology of strengths tells us what is good about ourselves instead of what is wrong with us, and then builds on our strengths. All of the concentration on the positive allows the ‘negative’ to become less visible in someone’s lives.
To the cynics out there, I know it may sound ignorant to concentrate on the positive and ignore the negative or the “problems”. Yet, there is plenty of scientific evidence yielding great results when employing this technique and it has had lasting success at the systemic, group and individual levels. I especially want to point to the groundbreaking dissertation research in 2007 of Dr. Jason Berman, which gives clear evidence showing that when we know our strengths and consider them in terms of our self-concept, we are indeed happier (Berman, 2007).
I was so excited when I found out that psychology could actually tell me what is good about myself! This field has done such a great job at analyzing what is wrong with us, it is about time they start looking at what is right! As soon as I could, I took that VIA test and below are my strengths:
Kindness & generosity
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
Curiosity and interest in the world
Hope, optimism and future mindedness
Since learning my strengths, I have felt a whole new sense of how I can be my best self. Gratitude for me was something I developed over the course my adult life, and it has become part of my everyday state of being. Knowing that I am kind and generous helps me to understand why I desire to help others, and why it makes me happy. Utilizing gratitude and kindness in your everyday life are two of the top methods that are used to increase happiness. Learning about my third strength, appreciation of beauty and excellence, made me understand why I enjoy the best in life. My curiosity and interest in the world keeps me from boredom or from judging others. Lastly, my fifth strength, of hope, optimism and future mindedness helps me to remember that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” when times get rough. This strength helps me to inspire others to see the light at the end of the tunnel too.
Once we know what our strengths are, we can use them in numerous ways. One way is to team up with others who know what their strengths are and engage in activities that are in line with each team participant’s strengths. For instance, you might go on outings that highlight your strengths. Since I appreciate beauty and excellence, I may be inclined to go to a museum. I recommend you cultivate your strengths in your life every moment of everyday and this will lead you to the mindset it takes to feel better!
We can also use our strengths in times of happiness challenges. Remember a happiness challenge is something that arises in your life that makes you feel bad. When you come across an obstacle of feeling better, look to your strengths to see if you can overcome it. For instance if you are a victim of someone else’s road rage you can offer your strength of kindness instead of participating in that person’s road rage. In my case I know that in a time of strife I can reach for my gratitude tool to help me see what I am grateful for in that situation, or for my kindness tool to help me alleviate the stress of the situation. You can even use your strengths when coping with hardship or tragedy like having gratitude when someone close to you passes on. You can feel gratitude for the times you shared with that person or be grateful for them they are no longer suffering.
I encourage you to visit http://www.authentichappiness.com to take the VIA signature strengths survey to find out what is good about yourself :). Trust me, you will like the results!
After that, if you need help figuring out how you can use your strengths to achieve greater happiness, visit my self-help store for some great tools :).
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Dr. Aymee Coget, a widely-known happiness expert, has more than 15 years of experience in positive psychology. Through the Happiness Makeover™, a program developed by Coget, she teaches people how to achieve happiness and handle life's challenges. She also serves as CEO and founder of the American Happiness Association, a science-backed nonprofit designed to educate individuals and organizations about how to be happier, and was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.