Leading positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman identified 24 universal character strengths that all people exhibit. Our character strengths are the core parts of ourselves that shape our personalities, our goals in life and influence our behaviours. They motivate us and make us who we truly are. We have the ability to use all 24 character strengths but we typically exhibit a smaller number of strengths regularly; these are called our ‘signature strengths’. In one study, when participants were asked to identify their top five signature strengths and encouraged to use them in a novel way every day for one week, they reported being significantly happier up to six months later (Seligman et al., 2005).
It can be hard for us as individuals to identify our own character strengths because we use them regularly and sometimes take them for granted. It is often easier for the people who know us well, like friends, family, teachers and classmates, to spot our strengths; this is called ‘strength spotting’.
It can be an illuminating experience to have others spot strengths in us, as our eyes are opened up to seeing the strengths that we maybe ignore. It can also be an extremely bonding experience when students think about each other in a positive way and celebrate each other’s strengths.
A strength-spotting exercise
In the resource below, students consider the 24 character strengths and reflect on the uplifting messages their classmates provide for them. Once students have thought about their classmates’ strengths and given an example of how they use them, collect in the strips. All the strips about one student, ‘Sarah’, for example, are given to her to stick onto a sheet. Each student should have up to 30 strips of strengths others have spotted in them. When everyone has their strength strips, you can then discuss as a class students' responses to the reflection questions.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005) ‘Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions’, American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.
Adrian Bethune is author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness (Bloomsbury, 2018) and the founder of www.teachappy.co.uk @AdrianBethune.