“I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it.” – Virginia Satir
I’m not a handy guy. Nope. Don’t call me if there’s a leak, or a loose electrical doodad. My toolbox consists of a butter knife, a credit card, and a sledgehammer. I have no finesse at all when it comes to mechanical things. I have never even tried to open the hood of my car. If the air conditioning doesn’t work, I wait for winter. I have no carpentry skills. If the door to the bathroom rubs on the floor — that’s the way it is going to stay. My favorite Beatles song is “Let it Be.” I hum this as I notice all the things that need repair.
After high school, I agreed to take the aptitude test for the plumbers union. This was a sad day for all concerned. The results indicated that I should be able to fill a tub without assistance, but supervised when flushing a toilet.
Fortunately, I have other skills and strengths. No, don’t ask me to fix your computer or decorate your home, or offer fashion tips or suggestions on how to prepare chateaubriand. I am not as adept at these things as I am at plumbing. But I do have some character strengths that help me navigate life. They are my signature strengths. You have some, too.
Signature strengths are part of an evolving component in positive psychology, the science of what makes people thrive and flourish in their communities and their lives. The three main branches of positive psychology are the study of positive emotions, character traits, and institutions. The signature strength survey helps to identify the various aspects of character. Why is this important? Because the research suggests that if you are aligned with these strengths and engage in their development and expression, you are likely to be happier and more fulfilled in life. Understanding and developing these strengths allows you to live a more authentic life.
How do we know who the right person to love is? Or develop our career? Or select friends? Or evolve our talents? What keeps us stuck in destructive patterns, or hopelessly indecisive? The answer to all these questions passes through one gateway: Self-understanding. Without this we lack the necessary ingredient to process features of our character that allow us to monitor and adjust our way of being in the world.
The Values In Action (VIA) Institute was developed by the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation and grew out of the work of Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Check out this brief overview video featuring Dr. Martin Seligman, as well as some ways and reasons for using your top strengths.
There are 24 strengths in all, but if you identify the top few you can use these to move through life with more ease and efficiency. When you can do this we call it “flow,” the ability to put our best foot forward in as many situations as we can. Once we know and understand our strengths, we can use them to our advantage. This is true even in difficult situations when we might not typically think to use them.
The survey is free and will take you about 40 minutes. It is thorough, and gives you a printout of your strengths to hang on the fridge or tack up next to your computer. Self-reflection takes time to get used to, but everything we know about how people make positive changes in their lives begins with it.
Give yourself the gift of taking this survey. You will have to sign in, but there is nothing you need to buy. More than a million people have taken it to date.
My top three signature strengths, by the way?
My report indicated that creativity, ingenuity, and originality are my top strengths and that I like to think of new ways to do things — I am not satisfied with convention. My ability to provide perspective makes people want to turn to me for advice. Humor and playfulness round out the top tier. I like to laugh and tease and bring a smile to others. This aspect of my character suggests I like to see the light side of all situations.
Maybe these are the reasons I like being a therapist, writer and teacher and enjoy being with people. I think the survey is probably accurate, but not because of what they’ve identified as my top features. I think it is spot-on because nowhere near the top of my list does it distinguish me as a person with the desire, joy, or ability to deal with a leaky faucet.