When we think of psychology, we tend to think disorders, deficits and distress. Abnormal psychology automatically comes to mind.

But, of course, there are several types of psychology.

One of them, positive psychology, takes a different approach. It focuses on how humans flourish.

Specifically, positive psychology “is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive,” according to the Positive Psychology Programr at the University of Pennsylvania, home to positive psychology’s founder, Martin E.P. Seligman.

It studies three principle areas, according to Seligman: positive emotions (such as happiness and hope), positive individual traits (such as strength, resilience and creativity) and positive institutions (such as better communities, leadership and parenting).

Character Strengths

Research on character strengths is a fascinating part of positive psychology. Character strengths are “the psychological ingredients—processes or mechanisms—that define the virtues,” according to authors Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman in their book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.

They give the example of the virtue of wisdom, which they say “can be achieved through such strengths as creativity, curiosity, love of learning, open-mindedness and what we call perspective—having a ‘big picture’ on life.”

The authors view their classification of character strengths as a kind of healthy version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They call their book “a manual of the sanities.”

The classification comprises six major virtues and then various strengths that fit under each virtue (see below). “The classification reflects the world’s major religious writings, including the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as studies of major philosophies,” according to the VIA Institute on Character, a nonprofit organization. Fifty-five psychologists searched for these traits over three years, and many researchers have studied the classification.

The Survey

What’s really interesting is that you can find out your own core strengths by completing a questionnaire. Peterson authored the research-based survey that helps people identify their signature strengths, as they’re referred to. It’s called the VIA survey and is offered by the VIA Institute on Character. You can register to take the survey here.

The VIA Classification of Character Strengths

Here’s a closer look at each virtue and the strengths. You can learn more about each category here.

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment and Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective
  2. Courage: Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest
  3. Humanity: Capacity to Love and Be Loved, Kindness, Social Intelligence
  4. Justice: Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
  5. Temperance: Forgiveness and Mercy, Modesty and Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation
  6. Transcendence: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Religiousness and Spirituality

Have you taken the VIA Survey? What are your thoughts on positive psychology or character strengths?