Happiness and strengths

Happiness and strengths

David J. Pollay

HappyNews Columnist

Updated: 8/30/2007

It was 1977 and I was in the sixth grade. I joined the Boy’s Choir. I really didn’t like singing in choirs, but I joined anyway. All my friends had joined, so I did too.

I can still remember our two performances. I stood in the back row of the choir and mumbled my way through most of the songs. Why? I didn’t know all the words. So I sang the choruses and smiled a lot.

How many of us mumble and stumble through life? We just go through the motions. We’re not happy with our performance, but we continue anyway. Will we ever be good at what we’re doing? More importantly, will we ever be happy if we stick with the things we’re not passionate about?

Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi now at Claremont College, the founders of Positive Psychology, wrote that people do their best when they focus on “identifying and nurturing their strongest qualities, what they own and are best at, andê¢__‘Ô_find niches in which they can best live out these strengths.” Success will come to us when we discover what we enjoy doing, what natural strengths we have, and what activities we find meaningful.

Seligman, and Positive Psychology researcher Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan conducted extensive research on strengths. They developed a scientifically validated and widely used assessment tool to help people discover and learn about their strengths. The assessment is called the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths Survey (VIA-IS). The VIA-IS helps people identify what strengths are most natural to them – the strengths they use most often in their lives. Over 600,000 people throughout the world have taken the assessment. You can find the VIA-IS on my leadership research site at www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. When you register to take the confidential survey, choose “other” in the dropdown box.

When you complete the VIA-IS, you will walk away with a greater awareness of your top five strengths. You should then ask yourself two powerful questions.

First, how do you use your top five strengths in some way every day, and how have you used them in the past? You’ll find out that you express your strengths in many areas of your life.

Second, when you look at your most significant accomplishments in your life, which of your top strengths did you use to help achieve these successes? You’ll begin to see a pattern in your life. The accomplishment of your goals will have come as a result of your tapping many of your top strengths.

Now that we’ve talked about your strengths, what about your weaknesses? Can you forget them? The answer is “no, but.” The “but” is that you no longer should focus your energies in trying to fix your weaknesses. There’s a better answer: Look for the people who have the strengths you lack and partner with them. Focus on what you do best, and then let others do the same.

So let other people sing in the Boy’s Choir if that’s what they love to do. As for you, find your own voice in life and express it in your own unique way.