Being tasked for the first time with an instruction of having to write my first reflective essay based on my strengths and virtues, as I sat still glazing onto the empty blue sky with a pen clutched in my one hand and a paper on the other hand. I asked myself a lot of questions, where will I begin and where will I end? Many thoughts ran through my mind spontaneously and all at the same time, thoughts of fear and excitement about the task at hand and how one was going to go on about tackling it.
The first step I had to do in other to tackle this task which seemed like a daunting one, was to take the character-strength-survey and this I did online by using the VIA Institute Character survey. The results of the survey showed all my twenty-four strengths in ascending order with my first top five being, hope, gratitude, humor, zest and perseverance. The survey also revealed that forgiveness was the least of my strengths as it was ranked last. It was after going through the report and the description of what each strength meant that I was able to relate to it from a personal level, to be able to see the things one was oblivious to within my character daily. Most importantly the report made me aware of my unique characteristics that made me stand-out and excel without having to put in extensive effort.
It is in this reflective essay that I will be giving an outline on my five top strengths by indicating on each whether it is a realized strength, an unrealized strength, learned behavior or a weakness. The challenge which I have encountered in my life and how I successfully integrated the strengths-based if-then implementation plan with my top strengths in order to help me improve on the strength that I most struggle to make use of daily. Also in this reflective essay, a literature review of my top strength and the impact of it based on positive psychology will also be discussed.
It is true that the unique qualities and specialities that each one of us possesses are the ones that give us our identity and individuality. One can be able to classify and dissect these qualities and specialities into qualities, namely, strengths and weakness regardless of whether it is a realized strength, unrealized strength or learned behavior. For a person to grow and be able to live their life with virtue one needs to be able to identify their own strengths which will help them to overcome their weaknesses.
Literature review on character strengths and hope
One can genuinely agree that the foundations of a life-long happy life where one constantly thrives and develops is rooted in the foundations of character strengths. According to Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), Positive Psychology has refocused its scientific attention to character, identifying it as a key to understanding the psychological good life. It was Peterson et al., (2006), who emphasized that Positive Psychology is about building an optimal and fulfilling life by ensuring that one can identify their own character strengths and foster them. Character strengths are those personality traits that each one of us values morally. According to Peterson (2006), character strengths influence each other by that they do not occur in isolation from each other. Character strengths are three dimensional and are considered in degrees because they differ in relevance depending on the context of each (McGrath, et al., 2010).
The application of positive psychology has proved beneficial by the development of VIA Classification of 24-character strengths and 6 virtues. This classification was developed as a common language in order to be able to explain a persons best qualities (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Importantly, the work of this classification is a result of the works and collaborations from scientists and the reviews of works over the past millenniums of theologians, great philosophers, educators and scholars. The six virtues and 24 character strengths include (i) Wisdom and Knowledge- creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning and perspective, (ii) Courage- bravery, perseverance, honesty and zest, (iii) Humanity- love, kindness and social intelligence (iv) Justice- teamwork, fairness and leadership, (v) Temperance- forgiveness, prudence, humility and self-regulation, (vi) Transcendence- gratitude, hope, appreciation of beauty and excellence, humor and spirituality (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
A person can possess the skills, talent and ability but even with all these three combined they can never completely enable a person to achieve their optimal goal. As much as they will enable a person but it has been proven through extensive research that psychology is an important vehicle that gets one there. According to Snyders et al., (1991), hope is defined as a cognitive set thats based on a sense of successful goal-directed determination (agency) and the planning of ways to meet this goal (pathway). The motivational component of hope, agency, is the sense of willingness in ones ability to achieve goals. On the order hand, pathways deal mainly with the ability of one to come up with different methods and plans to attain the goal. Hope constitute to one of the predictors of life satisfaction and Bailey and Synder (2007) went a step further by explaining that individuals who are satisfied with their lives are also hopeful. This was according to the correlation between the persons life satisfaction and their overall hope.
According to Marques et al., (2014), in their review of the hope theory, hope can revolve around anything that one aspires to experience, create, do or to become, that an individual is totally in control of what they want.
Individuals with high hope levels are mostly sustained by their ability of agency thinking when confronted with difficult and challenging situations or hinderances (Snyder, et al., 1997). Individuals with high hope have the capability to develop alternative pathways and this is evident in cases where the goal is deemed very important and obstacles start to appear. Synder and colleagues summed hope nicely when they said its a human strength manifested in capacities to (a) clearly conceptualize goals (goals thinking), (b) develop the specific strategies to reach those goals (pathways thinking), and (c) initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies (agency thinking) (Marques, et al., 2014).
Using my top five strengths with strength-based implementation plan
Being able to understand the different learning types and observing behaviours displayed by other people has enabled me to be more aware of how I should adjust myself to learn more effectively. It has also enabled me not to be hard on myself or punish myself for thinking one way or failing on doing something. I will discuss my personal strengths, how they help me daily and how Ive used them to overcome some of my weakness.
One thing is certain, and that is with life, learning is a never-ending experience. That its important as we go through it we learn who we are and can identify as well as grow from our own personal strengths and weaknesses. It is through this knowledge that one will be able to set and achieve the goals I set for myself.
Hope:- can be defined as a manner of experiencing yourself, the world and the future (Scioli & Biller, 2009). It embodies the concepts of active orientation that enables agency and interpersonal engagement towards achieving purpose and well-being. Its true that life is not always easy as one each day faces a different challenge or an obstacle of some sort. The use of my hope strength has allowed me to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to provide a successful outcome. I consider hope my realised strength because it has helped to propel me to move from many difficult situations that I have come across. Some of the situations were life-changing while others were those that seemed as if it was the end of the road for me but because of it being my realised strength I was able to conquer and prosper through those situations. I consider hope to be my realised strength because even the people around me have been motivated by what I have been able to achieve to have some form of hope in them. As a Kortte et al, (2012) stated that hope presents an individuals sense of determination to achieve their objectives.
Gratitude:- it is defined as a cognitive-affective state that is mostly associated with the perception that a person has benefited personally on something that they were not intentionally seeking after, earned or deserved but rather because of their good intentions of the other person (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). There are a lot of different things that can guide people towards meaning and better health, and for me, my gratitude strength has been playing a big role in me finding meaning. It is because of my realised gratitude strength that I can acknowledge that most of the successes that I have been able to achieve so far in my life were not all by my doing but by also the help of others.
I have learned that in everything I do if theres someone who has helped me in a way I should acknowledge their contribution and let it be known to them how I appreciate it. Gratitude leads people to feel closer and more connected to others (Wood, et al., 2008).
My gratitude strength has further enabled me not to only acknowledge those people but has helped me to form new social relations and to strengthen the ones I already have.
Humor:- it is defined as a form of entertainment and means of coping with a difficult or awkward situations and stressful events (Karen, 2019). My use of humor strength has not only helped me deal with difficult situations only but has also allowed me to uplift the mood of the people who seemed to be distressed for some reason. Humor has really played an important role in shaping the person I am today especially when it came to presentations during my academic studies. I remember, each time before I could do a presentation because of nerves I would crack a joke unknowingly, next thing I would just see people laughing and this would really work in my favour by that from there I would do the presentation with fewer difficulties. Humor has a primarily emotional function for helping the humourist to build confidence and self-esteem (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2004). As much as humor can be both good and bad, I primarily try my best to ensure that I use it only for the good and not to make others feel inferior in a way or be hostile to others using it.
Zest:- Peterson and Seligman (2004), defined it as the habitual approach to life with anticipation, energy and excitement. It based on the concept that an individual live their life to the fullest and ensures that they make the best out of each day. My zest strength has enabled me to approach life with the perception and belief that anything is possible, that with hard work, enthusiasm and commitment one can be able to achieve anything they aspire to. And this proved true mostly in my academic studies by that even though I did not have the prescribed study materials, my dream of wanting to pass compelled me to come up with ways to help me achieve this goal. As Paulo Coelho once said When you are enthusiastic about what you do, you feel positive energy, it has helped me to come up with robust coping mechanisms when required but most importantly it has also enabled me to be adventurous in the things I do. The core of zest is to live and not just exist (Chowdhury, 2019), through exercising my zest strength my life has been enjoyable and attractive, other people like me for my positivity and energy, Im able to communicate more effectively with others and thus maintaining a healthy relationship with myself and them.
Perseverance:- the persons ability to see to an end what they have started, to keep on going despite difficulties, achieving goals and staying on track with other things (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). It is true that intelligence or talent alone cannot be driving force behind ones success but requires perseverance. For most of the academic period, I had to exercise my perseverance strength because things were mostly not easy for me. According to King (2014), perseverance is necessary for the possession and the ability to exercise all other intellectual virtues and this include also courage. The use of my perseverance strength has been the core strength that has propelled me to get where I am today, it has enabled to face challenges head-on and made me believe that its through it that I will succeed as long as I keep going. This is the same sentiment expressed by Duckworth et al., (2007) where they said perseverance is about working tirelessly despite challenges, maintaining effort and interest throughout despite failure or adversities. To persevere has taught me that not all achievements will come as quickly as I want but that some will be like a marathon and I will have to keep at it.
The use of the Strength-based if-then implementation plan to combat the challenge I face in life
According to Masten and Coatsworth (1995), in order to fully understand developmental trajectories, there needs to be an integration between a focus on pathology and competence. The field of positive psychology is orientated how human being behave including their cognition but importantly it is concerned with improving the human experience. Terjesen et al., (2004) argued that in identifying areas of strength for capitalization can help in addressing the core of the problem rather than altering the observed behaviour. Rhee et al., (2001) agreed that the endorsement of strengths can be beneficial to an individual in them taking responsibility and being able to navigate their own life experiences. By doing such, positive benefits include increased optimism, motivation and hope rather than one feeling overwhelmed by the challenges they face.
In most of my life when growing up, I have never been a person who was known for holding grudges or not forgiving those who have wronged me. I was raised in a family where love, forgiveness, happiness and caring for others was the main theme of my family, and as I continued growing, I embraced this culture and allowed it to shape the person I wanted to be in the future. But things changed when one person wronged me this other time in such a way that it was hard for me to continue my life the way I have been living and taught before. I continued to love, care and to be happy but I struggled with the idea of forgiveness hence even when I took character-strength-survey, forgiveness ranked the last.
Since I have started to experiment with the strength-based if-then implementation plan, I have seen great improvements in the way I conduct myself. But most notably by combining all my top five strengths, it has broadened my view of how I see my life, to that theres more what I have been before and more for one to look out for than just holding on to the past hurts. This experiment allowed me to develop new coping mechanisms to supplement the ones I already have so that I can be able to function and live at my optimal best level. I took the test again, two weeks after experimenting with the implementation plan and the results in the middle order changed with forgiveness now ranking within my ten top strengths. For years I as much as I was happy, its true that I had a burden which because of my other strengths I had managed to suppress and hide but thankfully the use of this positive psychology intervention helped me a lot.
One can never emphasize the importance of having character strengths and being able to use them daily. Character strengths are those aspects that are part of us and help define, shape and make us who we are or aspire to be. They enable one to live the best possible life that can only happen when truly find and get to understand who we are. This task which seemed daunting at first because of the lack of knowledge proved to be a blessing in a way. It taught me something about myself which I did not know I had or capable of. It has further given me the drive that if applied correctly and consistently a person can only grow and get better with time. For each one of to become who the universe wants us to be, we must self-introspect and be prepared to take all the necessary steps so that change can happen.