If you want to increase your happiness, one way is through nurturing your character strengths. Positive psychology has identified 24 strengths which can be divided into 6 distinct virtues. All of these strengths can be developed. A great deal of research has gone into looking into these strengths and how they can benefit happiness and wellbeing. Carrying out tasks and activities that provide you with opportunities to exercise your strengths are sure to make you feel good and give you more flow experiences. Consciously using these strengths will move you away from engaging in passive activities so frequently (eg watching television).
In this article I will talk about the strengths which make up the virtue ‘wisdom and knowledge': curiosity, love of learning, open-mindedness, creativity and perspective. Seligman suggests that for happiness we use those strengths which are our signature strengths. To discover your signature strengths, I suggest you visit the Authentic Happiness website and take the VIA survey. There is a feel good factor in working with our strengths. However you may have something you want to nurture. As such I offer a tip to enhance each strength.
Curiosity refers to having an interest in the world. Curious people are open to experience. They are flexible and take steps to actively engage in what is going on around them. Such people have been shown to be satisfied with life. If you are the sort of person that generally find yourself intrigued by the simplest of things and you have to do find out more, curiosity may be one of your strengths.
If you want to nurture your curiosity, try the following tip:
Each week take a new subject and learn and explore and find out as much as you can about it. It may set you off on a great adventure and you are sure to learn something about your own likes and dislikes.
Love of learning
People with a love of learning thrive on the learning experience. They are always eager to learn more and develop their skills set. Such people learn for the sake of it, not because they have to. Learning is not something that stops when we finish school. Research suggests that people with this strength have better physical and mental health later on in life. This may be one of your strengths if you are generally learning new things and often attend classes.
Tip: Become an expert in something that interests you. Read books, have discussions and visit websites.
An open-minded person is able to assess information objectively. They have good judgement and don't give in to irrational thinking. Such people weigh up the alternatives and are able to consider all the evidence and not just that which supports their original beliefs. Such people are less open to manipulation, are more willing to change and give things a go. This may be your strength if when having discussions with friends you are able to see both sides of the argument without getting emotionally involved. Research has found that people who are open-minded do better on cognitive tests.
Tip: Read a newspaper that differs in its political beliefs to yours. Think about how some of their opinions may be valid, or at least why they hold such an opinion. Try to avoid being critical as this defeats the purpose of the activity!
Creativity refers to coming up with novel ways of doing things. A person with this strength is able to think outside the box. Creativity is not just about being artist and can be displayed in many areas of life. This may be your strength if you are the type of person that frequently suggests a solution that others have not thought of. Research suggests that we can be at our most creative when in a happy mood. Yet another reason to be happy!
Tip: When working on a problem, spend time brainstorming possible solutions. Really go to town and don't feel inhibited. Put pen to paper. An amazing solution can come from an unexpected avenue.
Perspective is the closest strength to wisdom. A person with perspective draws on their knowledge and experience to assist other people. Such people are not all-knowing; rather they are ready to learn more and are open to the views and opinions of others. People will turn to them to get a better perspective on an issue. Research suggests that wisdom predicts a positive experience of ageing and may be more important than environment, financial security and physical health.
Tip: Keep learning and be open to the views of others. This will enable you to build up a body of knowledge that can be used for the good of others.
Copyright Julia Barnard 2008
Julia Barnard is a professional counselor living in Adelaide, Australia. She provides an online counseling service through her website http://www.makethechange.com.au , which offers counselling at a time and place that suits you. Julia also publishes a quarterly ezine and writes articles for the website aimed at enhancing wellbeing and promoting good mental health.