The Science of Well-Being

Using Your Strengths to Improve Happiness

Signature Strengths

What are the things we should be wanting, but don’t currently want? How can we want the stuff that’s really going to make us happy? Today we will be discussing, wanting the right parts of the things we already do want and using our signature strengths to improve our happiness.

We will use our jobs as an example as this is easy to grasp. We have talked about things about our jobs that we think bring happiness; higher and higher salaries. But we have learned that this is not actually true, even though we don’t realize it. So if the salary does not bring us happiness, what should we be looking for and wanting in a job?

Signature Strengths

For starters, you should be looking for a job that lets you use your signature, character strengths (don’t know what yours are? check out this post!) From the book, Authentic Happiness, character strength is loosely defined as a desire or disposition to act or feel, that then leads to a recognizable excellence or feeling of flourishing. Or virtues in the way that we act. Your signature strengths are those character strengths that are most essential to who you are.

These character strengths, are features that are ubiquitous. These are found in all cultures, all over the world. They are strengths of your character that are fulfilling and morally valued. They are used to bring positivity and happiness to people around you. It has been found that our character strengths are stable and stay with you throughout your life.

Martin Seligman, who is really a pioneer in positive psychology, studied and put in work to identify 24 character strengths. And he found that if you can identify your signature, character strengths and put those strengths into action then you will be able to find work where you show the most virtue and the most flourishing.

Seligman also studied happiness levels before and after people purposefully and distinctively used their signature strengths. He found that after people worked on their signature strengths for just 1 week, there were still large improvements in happiness and depression 6 months later.

If using our strengths makes us happier, shouldn’t we seek out a job that allows us to use our signature strengths?

The answer is yes, and of course studies were done. And yes, you do experience more positive emotion in your job, which improves productivity, and makes you like your job even more. And it was found that if you use your top 4 signature strengths, your feeling of just having a job, turns into the feeling of having found your calling. Your dream job.

Find your top 4 signature strengths by clicking here!


Another thing to seek out in your job, to create and to allow even more increase in satisfaction, is flow. The idea of flow came from another positive psychologist. Flow is really creating your optimal experience. We have this mental state that we can get to, where we are performing an activity and we are fully immersed, energized, focused, fully involved, and you just continue to enjoy it.

How do you pick activities or work that help you achieve flow? Finding work, activities, etc, that put us in a state of just the right challenge. This right amount of challenge allows us to avoid boredom, if the activity was too easy. Or to avoid anxiety, if the activity was too difficult.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing ones. The best moments really occur when a person’s body and mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Top 4 Strengths

So if we can get to a point of that right level of challenge at work, where we get to really use our 4 signature strengths, and get into this place of flow, then we should overall be very happy people.

But then what happens? We go home. We think we need to relax on the couch and find something on Netflix. Which is a really low skill level, no challenging features, so you actually feel boredom and apathy. Yet we choose to put ourselves there and in that mindset.

Think about it. When we are at home watching Netflix, we don’t want to leave to go to work. When we are at work, we want to leave to go home and relax. But in practice, in research, it seems like leisure time is not atcually making people very happy. There is an interesting disconnect where it seems like we are not very good at predicting the things that actually make us happy.

The message here is, if you actually find a job or career where you can use your 4 signature strengths and that allows you to get into your flow, then your work is really not as bad as you may assume and sometimes the leisure activities we choose make us feel more apathetic and bored than we think.

Final Thoughts

What are your 4 signature character strengths? Do you use these at work? Do you have hobbies outside of work that allow you to continue to use your strengths and get into your flow?

Mine are:
  • Fairness
  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  • Kindness
  • Honesty

Side Note

This last paragraph is my rambles, not something in The Science of Well-being course, but interesting to bring up nonetheless.

I really don’t think that Netflix (or something along the same lines) is bad in every circumstance. I watch a lot of documentaries so I find I get lost in some flow because I love, love, love to learn. If I binge watch a show, I usually do so with Jose and the dogs. So I feel happiness come over me. Maybe because of just being home with my loved ones. I feel gratitude for our house, for each other, for warm blankets, for our TV, for the time we have after a busy day, for the opportunity for a lazy weekend every now and then. And these lazy times, could these also help reset our reference points? I could keep going……

Share your strenghts! And leave a comment or shoo me a message!

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