The VIA Character Strength survey was rolled out from the labors of Dr. Christopher Peterson and Dr. Martin Seligman. The VIA, Virtues in Action survey is a 240 question survey that is a classification of positive human strengths, opposing the depiction of human deficits in the DSM-5. The goal of creating the survey was to help people live more flourishing lives through the realization of inner strengths and the ability to build on strengths1 . The survey categorizes human strengths into six core sections:
1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
2. Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
4. Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
5. Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality2
The core virtues do not reflect talents, intellect or special physical abilities. The VIA captures character potential for how you move through the world. Strengths are realized by the positive way a person articulates, emotions, feelings, and behaviors that release a capacity of potential and competence to live an authentic and flourishing life1. Our strengths are not who we think we are, but an innate set of characteristics that collectively sways us to be who we are and do what we do.
Let me give you an example and then you can go find out more about your character strengths and how to recognize, appreciate and nurture them. During a semester when I was teaching a Positive Psychology course, I decided to have my mom (74) take the VIA. She is retried with lots of time on her hand so I got a response back rather quickly. Her response was to me was “this is a bad survey; it definitely doesn’t show my strengths” (she wanted Religiousness and Spirituality). I asked her what her top strength was to which she revealed “courage/bravery”.
Bravery is the strength of standing ground and not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; one who is hopeful, persistent and pushes through difficulties. Now my mom was taking bravery in a physical literal senses, but you see my mom spent the good part of her adult career as a hospice care provider for dozens of the elderly in our community. She is a compassionate and relentlessly caring woman that has never put herself before another person. I cannot think of a more courageous or braver act than to know you are willingly taking the hand of another person who is on the last leg of their life journey, and that you will experience the end of life time and time again; all the while serving and caring for that person to ensure comfort, dignity and love into the final days. Strengths compel us to act in ways in this world, ways in which the virtues are lived out in a positive way.
If you would like to find out what moves you through the world and how can you use your character strengths to full potential? You can take the free VIA survey at: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter under Engagement Questionnaires/ VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
1Snyder & Lopez. (2007). Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
2Peterson & Seligman. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: a handbook and classification. Washington, DC: APA Press
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