I have worked with children and families in the hospital as a Certified Child Life Specialist for over 20 years. In recent years, I have enjoyed bringing the knowledge of positive psychology and related activities to children, families and staff in the hospital setting. On a recent visit with Damian, a 17-year-old patient in the hospital being treated for cancer, I brought a colorful list of the 24 Character Strengths. These character strengths were developed by a team of 55 social scientists and psychologists who worked to gather human qualities that have been valued across time, religion, philosophy, culture and psychology.
When I arrived, Damian was sitting in the dark in his bed. I asked him if he would be interested in doing a character strength exercise with me. He hesitated slightly, but agreed. I handed him the list of strengths and asked him to circle the strengths that he felt he had. Slowly he began to circle a few — humor, honesty… then bravery. He continued to look at this list as Mary, his nurse, came into the room. We shared with her what we were doing and very spontaneously she looked at the list and said, “Damian’s strengths? Oh I would say he has creativity, curiosity and hope…” Damian then spotted Mary’s strengths of kindness, love and teamwork. Mary left the room smiling and Damian and I continued to talk about character strengths. Before long, Damian’s Mom arrived with his dinner. Mom eagerly joined in on the exercise and spotted in Damian —spirituality, love, perseverance, bravery and kindness. Damian smiled and sat up a bit straighter. He looked at the list and said, “Mom, your strengths are love and kindness (thanks for bringing me dinner), also gratitude and zest. You have so much passion and energy Mom!” I excused myself as they dug into their dinner and continued to ‘strength spot.’
Spotting strengths in ourselves and others can be an empowering and meaningful exercise to try with your family, friends or colleagues. Like a muscle, your strengths can grow and develop— the more we use them, the stronger they become.
When you use your strengths, you will likely feel more engaged, your confidence will boost and you will have lower stress. Using your strengths can bring meaning and satisfaction to life, helping you feel happier, healthier and more successful. So why not start now to spot strengths in yourself and those around you?
If you are eager to find out what your strengths are, you can visit the VIA Institute on Character (www.viacharacter.org) to take a survey. (Note: There are different surveys for children ages 10-17 and for adults.) Also, be sure to watch the upbeat, 8 minute video, The Science of Character.
Rachel Gorman is a workshop trainer, speaker, facilitator and coach who together with individuals and teams, works to enhance energy, wellness, engagement, performance, communication, and work culture. Rachel brings over 20 years experience working with people in healthcare, education, in both the nonprofit and corporate worlds. Client work is focused on both personal and professional development. (www.rachelgorman.com)