Motivation and emotion/Book/2023/Signature strengths

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Signature strengths:
What are signature strengths and how can they be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Imagine having a personal set of tools, each one uniquely crafted to help you thrive in life, handle challenges, and enjoy your experiences. These tools aren't physical objects but inherent qualities within you. They are your signature strengths.

Signature strengths are those core positive traits that define who you are. They are a part of your character that feels authentic and energising when you use them. Just as a handwritten signature is unique to an individual, so too are these strengths uniquely expressed in each person, hence the term 'signature strengths' (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

When individuals recognise and harness their signature strengths, they experience myriad benefits. These strengths not only become an integral part of their personality but also influence their sense of purpose, well-being, and overall satisfaction (Seligman et al., 2005).

Focus questions:

  • What are some applications of signature strengths?

[Provide more detail]

Origins of Signature Strengths[edit | edit source]

Signature strengths are central to the principles of positive psychology, a discipline that shifts from a sole focus on pathology and illness to supporting individuals to identify and build upon their strengths and set goals to direct meaningful behaviour (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). These strengths find their philosophical foundation in virtue ethics, which emphasises the character of an individual over rules or outcomes.

The concept of character is crucial here, referring to an individual's ethical and moral compass that drives their actions and decisions. Within this framework, the idea of signature strengths was further developed and refined by two leading figures in positive psychology: Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

In their ground-breaking research, Peterson and Seligman (2004) delved into ancient texts spanning various cultures. Their goal was to identify universally admired positive qualities. Their efforts culminated in the creation of the Values in Action (VIA) Classification—a systematic representation capturing 24 specific character strengths categorised under six overarching virtues. They also developed a measurement tool called VIA Survey of Character Strengths, to help individuals discover their unique blend of these strengths.

This chapter delves into the world of signature strengths. Though applying signature strengths can be transformative in various spheres of life; however, very broadly, we will explore its influence on subjective well-being, work life and interpersonal relationships[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Signature strengths and Subjective well-being[edit | edit source]

According to Diener et al. (1999), subjective well-being (SWB) refers to individuals' comprehensive evaluations of their lives, encompassing both emotional reactions and cognitive judgments. It's essentially about personal perceptions and experiences of life satisfaction and well-being. SWB is composed of two primary elements:

  • Affective component (Emotional aspect): This relates to the emotional experiences people undergo, characterized by the frequency of positive emotions (like happiness and joy) compared to negative ones (like sadness or anger). It's about how often individuals experience pleasant versus unpleasant moods and feelings in their daily lives.
  • Cognitive component (Judgmental aspect): This represents life satisfaction, where individuals make judgments about the overall quality of their life as a whole or specific domains of their life (such as work, relationships, or health). It's an evaluative assessment based on personal criteria, meaning individuals evaluate the quality of their lives using their own standards.

Subjective well-being is a central concept in positive psychology and has been studied extensively to understand the factors that contribute to a fulfilling and satisfying life (Seligman et al., 2005). Now, let’s explore how our signature strengths influence our SWB.

Case study

Everyone has signature strengths, things we are naturally good at. They feel right and make us happy when we use them. For example, think of Maria, who always had a knack for listening to her friends. Whenever they had problems, they would come to her, and she would listen patiently, making them feel understood and less burdened. Over time, Maria realized that her ability to listen and empathize was her signature strength. When she started a career in counselling, not only did she excel, but she also felt a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness. Using her signature strength daily, she positively impacted others' lives while also enhancing her own well-being.

Drawing empirical support, Seligman et al. (2005) engaged 577 participants, all of whom were visitors of Seligman’s "Authentic Happiness" website, to be involved in a series of exercises that might improve well-being. Two of these exercises centred on the concept of 'signature strengths'. One required participants to identify their top strengths through an online inventory and then use one of these strengths in a novel way each day for a week. The other, a shorter variant, simply encouraged the frequent use of these identified strengths over a week. The results indicated that those who used their signature strengths in a new way had elevated happiness levels and reduced symptoms of depression, enduring for up to six months. Hence, this study underscores the profound effects of recognizing and actively applying one's signature strengths in our daily lives.

Role of Social Validation[edit | edit source]

Recent studies further explored to discern the intricacies of this relationship and found that while using strengths like being hopeful or grateful makes some people feel better about their life; interestingly, not all strengths had the same effect, suggesting that merely recognising a strength as 'signature' doesn't necessarily contribute substantially to SWB (Blanchard et al., 2020)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Apart from individual’s enactment of their strengths, acknowledgment by peers, and valuation in work or educational settings also influence SWB (Blanchard et al., 2020)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. This revelation diverges from previous studies [factual?] where strengths consistently forecasted SWB. Moreover, Azañedo et al. (2021) additionally found that if people around us, not just recognize and appreciate our strengths, but support us in implementing it, makes the relationship between strengths and well-being even stronger[Rewrite to improve clarity].

It's the same as having a favourite game that you're good at. If you play it and people cheer for you, you'll feel great. But if no one cares, or if they don't let you play, it might not feel as good, even if you're still great at the game.[Explain relevance to SSs]

Theoretical Frameworks: Social Recognition and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs[edit | edit source]

This basic human need for external validation can be explained using Social Recognition Theory (Honneth, 1996), which postulates that humans have an intrinsic desire for social recognition. We all crave validation and acknowledgment from our peers and society. When we receive this validation, especially for our unique strengths and attributes, it enhances our self-worth and overall life satisfaction.

Figure 3: Maslow's hierarchy of needs- belongingness and esteem.

Another very popular theory, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943), also sheds light on this phenomenon (see Figure 3). Once our basic physiological and safety needs are met, our psychological needs come into play, specifically the need for belongingness and esteem. By using our strengths, we not only find a sense of purpose and accomplishment (esteem) but also, when these strengths are acknowledged by peers, it fosters a sense of belongingness[factual?].

Summarizing, there is profound interconnectedness between our strengths, the way they're recognized and supported both internally and externally, and our overall well-being[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Perhaps, as we journey through life, the key lies not just in recognizing our superpowers but ensuring they find a place and purpose in our communities.

Signature Strengths and Workplace Outcomes[edit | edit source]

Signature strengths play a pivotal role in determining one's experiences at the workplace. They represent core attributes that, when utilized effectively, lead to improved positive outcomes both personally and professionally.[factual?]

In a study by Harzer & Ruch (2013), it was observed that the alignment - or congruence - of an individual's signature strengths with their professional responsibilities directly influenced their positive experiences at work, like improved job satisfaction, engagement, and profound sense of meaning and purpose. Increased engagement in job duties invariably drives the internal motivation to do even better, hence improving overall efficacy in the job roles (Miglianico et al., 2020). These effects across varying vocations underscores the universal importance of character strengths, emphasizing that every strength, regardless of its nature, can be a positive force when channelled aptly in professional settings (Harzer & Ruch, 2013).

Theoretical Frameworks: Person-Job Fit and Self-Determination[edit | edit source]

The significance of alignment of strengths with job responsibilities can be explained using Person-Job Fit theory (Edwards, 1991). It is a well-established perspective in the realm of organizational psychology. At its core, this theory posits that compatibility is not just about having the right skills for the job, but also about the alignment of one's personality, values, and interests with the job's demands, tasks, and environment. Several outcomes are associated with high person-job fit. For one, individuals who experience a strong alignment often report higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and reduced intentions to quit (Edwards, 1991).

Moreover, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) by Deci and Ryan (1985) can also help explain the [what?] phenomenon. It proposes that people have inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs, namely competence, autonomy and relatedness. In a work context, when employees feel that their work allows them to leverage their strengths (competence), grants them a sense of agency (autonomy), and fosters connections with colleagues (relatedness), they're more likely to be intrinsically motivated, engaged, and satisfied with their jobs (Deci et al., 2017).

Empirical Interventions: Crafting Strength-Based Workspaces[edit | edit source]

Correspondingly, various models and interventions have been designed to help individuals identify, hone, and apply their strengths. In a study by Harzer and Ruch (2015), the participants were tasked with identifying their top four character strengths through an online platform and were challenged to apply them in varied ways at their workplace over a span of four weeks. At the end, the participants reported a heightened "sense of calling," a term that implies a profound conviction that one's work isn't just a job but a fulfilling mission or purpose in life. This sense is tied to the belief that one's work makes a meaningful difference. Remarkably, the positive outcome persisted for up to six months post-intervention. Similarly, Forest et al. (2012) instructed their participants to deliberately apply two of their identified strengths in novel ways at work for two weeks. The results indicated amplified use of identified strengths and a surge in “harmonious passion”, which refers to an internalized, authentic form of passion where individuals engage in their work out of genuine love and interest, without feeling external pressures. It's [what?] characterized by a sense of volition and alignment with one's authentic self.

Diving into a more community-centred approach, Meyers and Van Woerkom (2017) introduced an intervention built on three pillars: identification, development, and application of strengths. What set this study apart was its incorporation of peer feedback and support, weaving the collective fabric of the workplace community into the process of individual strengths discovery and application. As participants traversed this three-stage journey, they exhibited a notable upsurge in positive emotions and psychological capital. Psychological capital is a multi-faceted construct, embodying positive psychological attributes like hope, resilience, and self-efficacy. This study illuminates the synergistic interplay between individual strengths and the broader workplace community, suggesting that personal growth and communal support are profoundly intertwined.

Job Crafting: A Contemporary Approach[edit | edit source]

Asking employees to apply their strengths is effective, but how about we involve them to craft their own jobs so that there is seamless application of strengths without being asked for it, and that also serve the broader objectives of the organization, primarily enhanced performance. Well, there is such a practice called 'job crafting', a concept introduced by Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001). At its core, job crafting involves making changes to one's job tasks, relationships, and cognition to align better with their strengths, passions, and values, thus creating a better person-job fit. While the benefits of job crafting are manifold, including increased job satisfaction and improved well-being, there are potential challenges. For instance, excessive job crafting without organizational oversight can lead to role ambiguity or conflicts with other employees. Additionally, it may not always align perfectly with organizational goals, leading to potential inefficiencies. Thus, while job crafting offers a promising avenue for individual and organizational growth, it must be approached with a balanced perspective, ensuring alignment with broader organizational strategies and objectives.

Conclusively, by understanding the relationship between strengths and work outcomes, employers can design job roles, workplace environments, and interventions that maximize both person-job fit and the principles of self-determination, resulting in more motivated, engaged, and satisfied employees.

Signature Strengths and Interpersonal Relationships[edit | edit source]

Interpersonal relationships refer to the social connections and interactions between individuals. These relationships are formed when two or more individuals engage and communicate, and they can span a wide spectrum from casual acquaintances to deep, intimate bonds (Miller, 2005). Interpersonal relationships can be established through various domains of human interaction, including familial ties, friendships, romantic relationships, professional associations, and more. Understanding and nurturing interpersonal relationships is essential for emotional and social well-being, as these relationships provide support, enrich our lives, offer a sense of belonging, and contribute to personal growth and self-awareness (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

Previous research increasingly indicates that qualities like love, kindness, social intelligence, and teamwork directly relate to interpersonal relationships (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Their research suggests that individuals who possess and deploy these strengths are more likely to foster healthy and supportive relationships.

For instance, imagine a person named Alex who possesses kindness as his dominant strength. Whenever his friends face hardships, they invariably turn to Alex, knowing he'll lend a listening ear, offering solace without judgment. In return, his friends treasure their bond with Alex, deepening the trust and intimacy of their relationship. This reciprocity demonstrates how signature strengths can serve as catalysts in forging strong interpersonal connections (see Figure 4).

Figure 4- Actively listening and communicating with compassion results in fostering relationships.

Another intriguing example can be drawn from Niemiec's (2013) exploration of "mindfulness of character strengths". Participants who were mindful of their intrinsic strengths and actively deployed them in their relationships reported greater satisfaction and deeper connections. This reinforces the idea that self-awareness, combined with the application of signature strengths, is instrumental in nurturing interpersonal ties.

Working relationships[edit | edit source]

In the context of [missing something?] workplace, Gander et al. (2012) found that individuals possessing and harnessing strengths such as teamwork or social intelligence could contribute to a more harmonious and collaborative work environment. Conversely, the absence or underutilization of these strengths could lead to conflicts or miscommunications. The study underscores the importance of recognizing and cultivating these strengths, not just for personal development, but for the overall health of the workplace ecosystem. Throwing in the communal aspect to it, Ruch et al. (2010) found that when peers recognized and appreciated each other's signature strengths, it laid the foundation for deeper interpersonal trust and cohesion. In practical terms, this suggests that awareness and acknowledgment of the inherent strengths of those around us can play a pivotal role in strengthening the bonds of trust in both personal and professional relationships. The implications of this can be profound, especially in team-based environments where trust is paramount.

Theoretical Frameworks: Social Exchange and Attachment[edit | edit source]

From a theoretical standpoint, two overarching frameworks can help elucidate the relationship between signature strengths and interpersonal dynamics. Social Exchange Theory posits that relationships are formed and maintained based on the principle of reciprocity (Homans, 1958). When individuals utilize their signature strengths in relationships, they offer value to the other person, who, in turn, feels compelled to reciprocate, thereby strengthening the bond. For example, a person whose signature strength is "gratitude" might consistently express appreciation, making their partner feel valued and fostering a deeper connection (Blau, 1964)..

Moreover, Attachment Theory, rooted in early childhood experiences, explains how individuals form attachments based on security and trust (Bowlby, 1997). Signature strengths, especially those related to care, love, and understanding, can influence attachment styles. A person with the strength of "loyalty," for instance, can offer a secure base to their partner, facilitating a secure attachment style (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978).

Point to ponder...

While the beneficial role of signature strengths in fostering healthy relationships is well-documented, it underscores the potential pitfalls of over-relying on specific strengths without adequately considering the relational context. For instance, while honesty is generally seen as a commendable trait, in certain sensitive situations, demonstrating tact might be more suitable and appreciated. Hence, while strengths play a pivotal role in interpersonal relationships, their application must be adaptive and context-aware (which could be your strongest of strengths) to foster positive and harmonious connections. What do you think?


1 John discovers that his signature strength is "empathy." How might this strength influence his relationships with others?:

Decrease his understanding of others' feelings
Strengthen bonds, trust, and communication
Make him less approachable to friends
Have no impact on his interactions

2 Sarah, a software developer, realizes that her innate strength lies in "leadership." How might this signature strength impact her work and career?:

Enhance her artistic skills
Improve her communication abilities
Propel her career growth and success
Strengthen her physical fitness

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Signature strengths undoubtedly serve as essential building blocks in the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Their judicious and adaptive use, grounded in theoretical frameworks like Social Exchange and Attachment theories, can pave the way for fulfilling, trusting, and enduring relationships. However, a one-size-fits-all approach might be restrictive; recognizing the fluidity of human interactions and adapting accordingly remains paramount.

Signature strengths are your intangible qualities, based on virtues, that if exercised properly can lead to a more fulfilling life. It helps foster subjective well-being and satisfaction with work life. Moreover, when people around you, i.e., your family, friends, peers and society at large, recognize and support these strengths, it magnifies this positive impact. At workplace, by aligning roles with strengths, employers can cultivate a more driven and fulfilled team. For interpersonal relationships to flourish, employing these strengths can foster deeper trust and understanding. A significant strength such a adaptability can overarch use of other signature strengths tactfully, tailored to the context and mutual needs.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ainsworth, Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. N. (1979). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation (1st ed.). Psychology Press.

Azañedo, Artola, T., Sastre, S., & Alvarado, J. M. (2021). Character strengths predict subjective well-being, psychological well-being, and psychopathological symptoms, over and above functional social support. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 661278–661278.

Baumeister, & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.

Blanchard, Kerbeykian, T., & McGrath, R. E. (2020). Why are signature strengths and well-being related? Tests of multiple hypotheses. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(6), 2095–2114.

Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. Transaction Publishers.

Bowlby. (1997). Attachment and loss : volume 1 : attachment. Pimlico.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of research in personality, 19(2), 109-134.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational psychologist, 26(3-4), 325-346.

Diener, Oishi, S., & Lucas, R.E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: Emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 403–425.

Edwards, J. R. (1991). Person-job fit: A conceptual integration, literature review, and methodological critique. International review of industrial and organizational psychology, 6(1), 283-357.

Forest, Mageau, G. A., Crevier-Braud, L., Bergeron, É., Dubreuil, P., & Lavigne, G. L. (2012). Harmonious passion as an explanation of the relation between signature strengths’ use and well-being at work: Test of an intervention program. Human Relations (New York), 65(9), 1233–1252.

Gander, Hofmann, J., & Ruch, W. (2020). Character strengths: Person–environment fit and relationships with job and life satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1582–1582.

Gander, Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). The good character at work: An initial study on the contribution of character strengths in identifying healthy and unhealthy work-related behavior and experience patterns. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 85(8), 895–904.

Harzer, & Ruch, W. (2013). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(3), 965–983.

Harzer, & Ruch, W. (2015). The relationships of character strengths with coping, work-related stress, and job satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 165–165.

Homans, G. C. (1958). Social behavior as exchange. American journal of sociology, 63(6), 597-606.

Honneth, A. (1996). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Cambridge, MA: MIT press

Maslow. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Meyers, & van Woerkom, M. (2017). Effects of a strengths intervention on general and work-related well-being: The mediating role of positive affect. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(3), 671–689.

Miglianico, Dubreuil, P., Miquelon, P., Bakker, A. B., & Martin-Krumm, C. (2020). Strength use in the workplace: A literature review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(2), 737–764.

Miller. (2005). Communication theories : perspectives, processes, and contexts (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Niemiec, R. M. (2013). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Hogrefe Publishing GmbH.

OpenAI. (2023). Explanation of Virtue Ethics [Digital assistant]. OpenAI platform.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.

Positive Education Schools Association. (2018). Week 14 - Perseverance. The Positivity Project.

Seligman, Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. The American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.

Ruch, Proyer, R. T., Harzer, C., Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2010). Values in action inventory of strengths (VIA-IS): Adaptation and validation of the German version and the development of a peer-rating form. Journal of Individual Differences, 31(3), 138–149.

Wrzesniewski, & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. The Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179–201.

External links[edit | edit source]