Psychology is the art and science of behavior. It is a subject which is not just enclosed in books, but one that lies in the realm of reality, and becomes a part of our everyday life. Human tendency, more often than not is to not look at the flipside of things, but to look at the conventional path endorsed by quintessential beings of the 21st Century which is where the need for positive psychology comes in.
Only when people change the way they look at things, things they would look at will change and to look at the bright side of things, to think more optimistically and looking for ways to make one’s life worthwhile is the true essence and the hallmark of positive psychology.
Positive psychology further emphasizes “building a fulfilling life by identifying individual strengths of character and fostering them”.
Positive Psychology believes in the idea of Eudemonia which translates to happiness or welfare. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, the proponents and fore fathers of positive psychology believe in the idea that one’s everyday problems can be resolved by just looking at the other side of the coin.
Humans have a tendency of seeing others as being happier than themselves and not sadder than themselves and once this outlook changes, individuals can start thriving in their lives and this field stands as a huge antithesis to clinical psychology suggesting that human beings are capable of much more than just coping with mental disorders.
‘A Character’ is a human quality that defines a person, a quality that makes a person stand out for who they are these characters are bring out the predominant feature of a person as they speak for themselves.
In 2004, Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson published a book on Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. This book comprises of 24 character strengths that every individual possesses. The students who participated in the study described each of the character strengths based on how they have understood it.
· Humor – Having a sense of humor comes with the ability to be creative, witty and ‘punny’ (to be funny and make puns) and turn any situation or conversation interesting by introducing wordplay or finding hidden meanings that can turn a boring mundane statement into something funny which would make someone laugh their heart out and brighten up their day.
· Spirituality – Feeling or Sensation of being aware of someone above or higher who is in control. Cultivating the relationship between humans and divine.
These character strengths can act as buffers against serious mental illnesses. Depression can be easily coped and managed by being optimistic and looking at the brighter side of life.
In the area of Positive Psychology, one has always focused on the aspect of helping an individual flourish in his/her life. But this has always been criticized – as now researchers believe in not solely focusing on individuals reaching their maximum potential but enabling all to make their highest contribution to something.
It helps one addressing issues inside out and outside in.
A second wave in the field of Positive Psychology has emerged where the focus has shifted from concentrating on positive emotions and experiences an individual has to how an individual leads a fulfilling life by overcoming his/her negative experiences.
Another emerging trend in the field focuses on a model known as Job Demands-Resources (JDR), which is considered as a mechanism that helps us focus on how to influence energy and engagement. It highlights the importance of building and drawing from one’s personal experience such as one’s mind set, behaviors and beliefs with linkages to successful job crafting.
The study of character strengths at work has rapidly increased in the last several years. Consultants, executives, human resource professionals, and managers are now regularly weaving character strengths exercises to help their employees become more engaged, productive, and happy. The use of character strengths to improve the skills of leaders, teams, and entire organizations is emerging as a popular and successful avenue as well.
Littman-Ovadia, Lavy, & Boiman-Meshita (2016) in a study of 1,031 working adults, signature strengths had the highest unique contribution to performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and lower counterproductive work behavior, while “happiness strengths” (zest, hope, etc.) had the highest unique contribution to work meaningfulness, engagement, and job satisfaction
In addition to the work domain, the vast field of education has found enormous benefit to teaching students, teachers, trainers, and entire schools on becoming more character strengths-based. Strengths-based parenting was found to relate significantly to strengths-based coping in children and negatively to stress levels. It is suggested that strengths-based parenting encourages children to use more strengths-based coping when they face stress and adversity, which partially explains these beneficial outcomes (Waters, 2015).
Character Strengths and Mental Illness, Problems, and Trauma Recovery
The use of character strengths to impact human suffering is an area of study that is grossly lacking. Shoshani & Slone (2016) conducted a study on 1078 adolescents living in southern Israel and being exposed to long periods of war, terrorism, and political conflict. Character strengths of temperance, transcendence, and interpersonal categories were found to negatively relate to psychiatric symptoms. These results support a resilience function of character strengths.
In a Korean study, addiction to smart-phones was associated with less temperance character strengths, while Internet addiction was associated with higher wisdom character strengths and lower courage character strengths.
A class (27 students) of post graduate students of positive psychology accepted the challenge of self-enhancement as a class assignment. They took the VIA survey and received the rankings accorded to their character strengths. They then chose a character strength they wanted to strengthen (indicated by improvement in ranking) and designed three tasks to be carried out in a duration of three weeks. During the three weeks they were required to keep a journal to maintain an experiential report of the tasks. The task alignment to the targeted character strength was assessed by teacher in-charge of the positive psychology paper.
Of the 24 character strengths, Perseverance emerged as the most popular choice of target character strength, thereby making courage most chose virtue of the six virtues. Justice was the least chosen virtue, while creativity, judgment, honesty, social intelligence, team work, fairness and leadership were the least popular choices for target character strengths. This demonstrates that most students were considering achievement oriented goals in different contexts. For example, they had set individual goals -one of the tasks chosen by a student was waking up early in the morning, without snoozing the alarm. Another example of a task done by one of the students was getting 7.5 hours of sleep every night. These tasks were aimed at self enhancement as over-coming previously debilitating habits or constructing newer healthier habits.
Perseverance was followed by kindness and self-regulation as the second most popular choice. Zest, forgiveness, spirituality, perspective, hope and curiosity were the third most popular choice for the group.
The choice of target character strength(s) can be better understood when the nature of tasks are re- categorized into intrapersonal, interpersonal and social. Intrapersonal nature of tasks is again the largest category highlighting the underlying need for achievement, but not necessarily in education or career pursuits. In fact, in overcoming barriers in self-expression, exploration and assertion. The main objective behind the choice and the tasks seems to be improving ego strength or will power or simply aim at high self-efficacy. One of the tasks chosen by a student to improve self -efficacy and bring about emotional stability was to read five quotes each day that would motivate and inspire her. Another task taken up by one of the students was to stick to a healthy diet and regular exercise. With regard to self -expression and self-exploration, one of the students had chosen the task of “speaking her mind” and taking a solo trip. Another student chose a task that highlighted assertion in the form of saying no to someone who thrusts his or her demands on her.
Again an intrapersonal task was also designed to accomplish the target strength in a social or interpersonal context. For example, some students sought to seek and giving forgiveness, by writing letters of apology or reconnecting in relationships gone sour, here the target character strength of forgiveness falls in the intrapersonal category but it is exercised in an interpersonal context. One of the tasks taken up by a student was to look back and revisit the situation and analyze so that she can learn from her mistakes and consider different aspects of the situation and can improve her relationship with others.
The intrapersonal tasks were further categorized into cognitive skill enhancement tasks, emotional regulatory skills enhancement tasks and behavioral skills enhancement tasks. Students demonstrate a clear inclination to design and execute cognitive skills enhancement tasks. For instance, students have done tasks such as meditation and mindfulness in order to improve their cognitive functioning. For example, a student did a task of writing down obstacles and distractions that hindered the completion of their target goals and prioritizing them.
The cognitive skill enhancement tasks are followed by emotional regulatory enhancement tasks like managing the anxiety of travelling alone, asserting in a conflict situation etc.
Behavioral skills enhancement tasks were least chosen and contained tasks like starting an exercise regime, regulating sleep and wake up time, regulating screen time etc.
Besides the intrapersonal nature of tasks, the second most sought task type was social. Wherein students chose to reach out to individuals whom they only knew as acquaintances or charitable institutions, by contributing through sharing of chores or rendering a helping hand to donating items required by a children’s shelter. For example, one of the students did a task of helping college staff pick up used plates. Another student did a task of helping the paying guest warden segregate washed clothes and fold them after laundry. With regard to the social domain, another task that was performed by a student was to reach out to someone in need where she could find an opportunity to offer some peace and hope in their life. One interesting task done by one of the students was to visit a prison home and the plan was to gift each child a goodie bag, engage them in interactive games and making it a fun filled day for them.
Interpersonal seemed like the least chosen nature of task and more often involved family than friends. The nature of tasks seemed either assertive (standing up in conflicting situation like an abusive parent) or rebuilding relationship by planning and spending more quality time with a lately distant member of the family.
On the whole 75% of the group saw a significant jump in their ranking, while 9% failed to see any change and 15% actually saw a dip in the ranking of their strength. But the qualitative report unanimously saw each student feeling encouraged of the experience and none regretting or feeling discouraged by a lowered ranking. In fact, most mentioned that the exhilaration accompanying the task was reward enough and the improvement in ranking was immaterial for them.
The most popular choice of character strength is Perseverance. The least popular choice of character strength is Creativity, Judgment, Honesty, Social Intelligence, Teamwork, Fairness and Leadership. Most popular virtue is Courage and the least popular virtue is Justice.
Number of positive growth are 24 and number of negative growth are 5. The number of unchanged choices is 3. The average number of ranks jumped up was 10.5. The highest jump in rank was 20 and lowest was 1.
Out of 25 participants,21 participants did 3 tasks to bring about a positive growth in their character strength which they have selected to work on. 2 of the participants have selected 2 character strengths to work upon. One of them has selected 3 character strengths and one of them have selected 4 character strengths to work upon. Most of the participants decided to do tasks that were mostly Intrapersonal in nature. Intrapersonal tasks have been divided into 3 types: Emotional, Behavioral and Cognitive tasks. According to the data, participants made tasks that were mostly Cognitive, followed by Emotional and behavioral tasks. There are 75 tasks in total.
Out of 75 tasks 55 tasks are Intrapersonal in nature, 8 are Interpersonal in nature and 12 are Social in nature.
Under Intrapersonal tasks, 28 tasks are cognitive tasks which shows majority of them made tasks for themselves which are mostly bringing out improvement which is based on cognition. 14 tasks are related to emotional growth and 13 tasks are related to positive behavioral growth.
Out of 75 tasks 12 tasks are social in nature. Under social, 10 tasks are related to acquaintances and 2 tasks are related to charity. Under social tasks acquaintances involve people like college staff and Paying Guest warden. Under charity we have orphanages and other NGO’s.
This shows that social tasks are the second highest which the participants have worked upon. The last one is interpersonal tasks where 8 tasks were done. Under interpersonal, 6 tasks are related to improving relationship with peers and 2 tasks are related to improving relationship with family.
The VIA Survey of Character Strengths provided a range of core character strengths to all the students who undertook the survey. After which, they decided to choose a character strength(s) they wished to improve within a span of 3 weeks by choosing personalized tasks for the same. By the end of the 3 weeks, all the students took a post-VIA Survey to access the rate of self-enhancement.
For carrying out the analysis, the tasks taken up by each student were better understood when the nature tasks were divided into three aspects: intrapersonal, interpersonal and social.
The set of intrapersonal tasks was the largest category as it not only targeted the educational pursuits but also different contexts such as social, interpersonal, cognitive skill enhancement and behavioral enhancement. The focus was on improving ego strength or will power or aim at high self-efficacy by overcoming barriers in self-expression, exploration, and assertion. Out of all the 27 student reports, the most common chosen character strength was that of Perseverance and the least chosen character strength to work on was Justice. This indicated that currently, the students have achievement-oriented goals in various aspects of their lives.
The next set of tasks were focused more on the social aspect where students chose tasks in order to reach out to individuals whom they only knew as acquaintances or charitable institutions by contributing through sharing of chores or rendering a helping hand to donating items required by a children’s shelter.
The last set of tasks that were less popular among students were that of the Interpersonal aspect. involved family than friends. The nature of tasks seemed either assertive (standing up in a conflicting situation like an abusive parent) or rebuilding relationship by planning and spending more quality time with a lately distant member of the family.
The nature of the various tasks that most of the students chose under this character strength enabled them to work towards self-enrichment by overcoming previously debilitating habits or adopting new healthier habits.
Thus, according to the second wave in Positive Psychology, the focus was on how an individual leads a fulfilling life by overcoming his/her past negative habits or experiences.
While on the other side of the coin, to understand the study objectively, we looked at the figures. In totality, there were 75 tasks undertaken by all the students in the study. On the whole, we saw a 75.0% of positive growth.
As we studied the nature of the tasks within three components: intrapersonal, interpersonal and social, we found that the majority of the tasks were concerned with intrapersonal with the majority of 73% followed by social comprising of 12% and then last in line interpersonal which had 11% of the tasks.
Intrapersonal tasks had majority of cognitive aspects that was to bringing about a change or rather improvement in the way they perceived and judged. It included cognitive skill enhancement tasks, emotional regulatory skills enhancement tasks and behavioral skills enhancement tasks. A few students had used mindfulness and meditation methods as a way to improve themselves. Second to the intrapersonal component was the social component that as mentioned earlier had 12% of tasks that the students had taken up. 83% of the tasks under the social component involved acquaintances – known surroundings or people that the students reached to. The least chosen nature of task – interpersonal that had more to do with working with family than peers. Students sought to activities that helped them rebuild relationships or take up a stand in the family.