At work, we tend to think about using our skills: our ability to write, design, code, or use Excel. That kind of focus means we’re doing the things we’re good at, but not necessarily the things that make us feel alive. But what if we put our strengths to work?
In psychology, character strengths – such as curiosity, gratitude, and perseverance – are traits that span industries and job descriptions. They’re also traits that we sometimes leave at home, unsure how they might be useful in a professional environment. But by doing so, we’re missing out on a lot of benefits.
In one study, researchers asked people to identify their signature strengths (more on that below) and use one in a new and different way at work each day for a week. Humorous people might send around the latest viral cat video to their coworkers; grateful people might go out of their way to thank a mentor or coworker; prudent people might voice their doubts in a planning meeting. At the end of the week and six months later, these people were happier and less depressed. Using our strengths gives us a sense of energy, power, and authenticity.
Identify your signature strengths
What strengths can you bring to work? Try these strategies to identify yours:
Take a test. The VIA Institute, which studies strengths of character, will give you a personalized ranking of the 24 character strengths according to which ones you exhibit most.
Reflect. Think of a time when you were at your best in the past few weeks. Why were you feeling good? What were you excelling at? Use the list below to identify the strengths you were using, and think about whether you use those strengths often.
Pick from the list. Do you see yourself in any of the strength descriptions below?
- Appreciation of beauty: You are awed by excellence and beauty.
- Citizenship: You excel in group situations.
- Curiosity: You are open, interested, and comfortable with uncertainty.
- Fairness: You believe in equality and morality.
- Forgiveness: You don’t hold grudges.
- Gratitude: Instead of taking things for granted, you feel thankful.
- Humility: You’re modest and don’t seek the spotlight.
- Humor: You’re funny and laugh a lot.
- Ingenuity: You think of creative ways to solve problems.
- Integrity: You are honest; your actions don’t contradict your beliefs.
- Judgment: You excel at critical thinking and evaluating ideas objectively.
- Kindness: You care for the well-being of others.
- Leadership: You can organize people and instigate action.
- Love of learning: You enjoy knowledge for its own sake.
- Loving and being loved: You have strong mutual relationships.
- Optimism: You are positive and hopeful.
- Perseverance: You are hard-working and persistent.
- Perspective: You have wisdom and share it with others.
- Prudence: You are careful and mitigate long-term risk.
- Self-control: You can regulate your behavior and keep your emotions in check.
- Social intelligence: You’re adept at reading people and handling social situations.
- Spirituality: You feel a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
- Valor: You face your fears and confront challenges.
- Zest: You have enthusiasm and energy for life.