Strengths, X-ray vision, and a Happier You

What do you rock at?

Now tell me: what’s beneath that? (Tricky, eh?)

Say you rock at rockin’ out. You’re an entertaining and skilled musician, and—no surprise—you love it. What’s at the essence of your musicality? How can you bring this into other areas of your life?

Your strengths pinpoint this essence.

The strengths underlying musicality might be creativity or curiosity (perhaps you’re deeply interested in how music works) or even self-control (you keep a disciplined practice schedule).

Knowing your strengths is like having X-ray vision. It allows you to see what’s beneath your skill sets and talents. Once you know your top strengths, you can start to use them more often and in new ways.

The more you use your top strengths, the more likely you’ll create “flow” (i.e. the high you feel when you’re really into something), and the happier and more engaged you’ll feel.

Sign me up.

You can find out what your strengths are here ( Choose “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” and settle in to answer the 240 questions. It doesn’t cost a penny and it’s legit—run by psychologists at UPenn).

Then try this exercise*:

1. Look at the Top 5 strengths and ask, “Is this a signature strength?”

  • Signature Strengths are the ones that really feel like us (“This is so me”), things we can’t help but do (“Try to stop me”), and that are energy or bliss inducing.

2. Choose one of your signature strengths and designate a time and place (or activity) in which you will consciously use it this week.

  • You might bring use your strength in a situation you wouldn’t normally (e.g. bringing the creativity that underlies music into your dinner preparation by crafting a beautiful salad).
  • You might designate time to use a strength in a way you already enjoy, but don’t currently set aside time for (e.g. Taking 30 minutes to write a poem to exercise your strength of creativity. Or, taking a photo tour of your city to exercise your strength of appreciation for beauty and excellence.)

3. Write about how you felt before, during and after the activity that engaged your strength. Did you find flow? Do you feel more invigorated?

4. Repeat!

*This exercise is adapted from the “Signature Strengths Exercise” in the book Flourish by Martin Seligman. He has a lot of awesome things to say, backed up by loads of research, about how to create a happier life.


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