This is the adapted transcript of my latest 52 Ways to Wellbeing podcast episode. It’s #8 of the 52 Ways and you’ll find the episode here.
I decided that, as I was quite a complicated one, you needed a written version as well, and this is particularly important when I get to the 24 “character strengths”. You need to see them written down. Also you need links to the websites I mention in the podcast. So, here goes. It’s not word for word the same, as I tend to ad lib. And I do apologise for the less-than-professional recording quality!
52 Ways to Wellbeing: No 8
This week the UK has been gripped by unusual snow and I’ve been trapped in my rural village for six days, on my own as my husband is trapped in Edinburgh, starting to wonder if I would run out of food, having several of my events cancelled and so losing some income AND I NEARLY ran out of chocolate, so today’s episode of 52Ways to Wellbeing is particularly apt.
It’s called “What went well” and there’s good research behind it as a valid way to improve wellbeing, to make you feel better about yourself and the world. It’s a form of positive thinking but it’s much better than just that: the trouble with plain old positive thinking is that actually sometimes it’s important to recognise that something bad just happened and then deal with it – if you’re always only focusing on the positive you’ll miss the things you might need to change to make your life properly better. So, positive thinking isn’t enough – it’s too vague and unfocused. And not easy sometimes either. But “what went well” is easy and practical.
It’s is a very specific exercise to recognize and acknowledge three things that went well today – even if some other things went badly. The psychologist Martin Seligman is the creator of this idea – which he also calls Three Blessings – and he’s done a load of research into its benefits. He talks about this here on the BBC website and you’ll find more about his work on the Authentic Happiness website.
Some schools do this exercise, too. It’s a really nice exercise for the end of a school day. It’s important that no one feels obliged to do this publicly, though – you can write the things down if you prefer. Keeping a notebook where you write the three things each day would be a great idea. And of course you can do it on your own at home – just before bed would be a perfect time.
You might be thinking, “But most days I don’t have three things that went well.” Ah, but you’re not thinking about this properly. You see, it’s not just big things like winning a prize or coming top in a test – those things don’t happen often. But it can be: the sun shone, we had chips for lunch, I sat next to my friend, I answered a question in class, I understood my homework, I watched a fun YouTube video, my team won at football, I ate some gorgeous chocolate. If you start thinking about it like that, you can definitely find three things. Or on exceptional days when you can only think of two, think of those two – two is better than none!
So, you write them down. But you’re not finished yet!
Now you have to work out which character strengths were involved in these good things that happened.
Character strengths are in some ways similar to personality traits – the characteristics that you have. But character strengths are special because you can, if you want to, change and grow and develop them – they grow with practice, whereas personality doesn’t work like that. (Psychologists disagree as to whether we can change our personality but my view is that personality isn’t something we need to change, only behaviour and reaction.)
Anyway, you need to know what the character strengths are and then find out which ones are your particular strengths. I’ve written about this in Positively Teenage, where I’ve listed them and their definitions. And I’m going to give you a shortened version of it in a moment – but you need to see the list written down if you’re going to be able to use it properly. (Which is why I have written this up on my website.)
The following is adapted from Positively Teenage, with kind permission of Hachette Children’s Group.
Schools tend to focus on measuring skills that are an obvious part of the curriculum, particularly subjects with exams as the goal. I don’t blame schools for this: it’s what they have to do.
But we need many other abilities in order to function well in life. Some of these are called ‘character strengths’ and are very important for well-being. They also affect performance and success, partly because well-being helps success, but also because the strengths include things like ‘perseverance’, which obviously affect your work. And there are ways to measure these strengths, as you’ll see.
The particular strengths I’ll refer to are the 24 character strengths listed by the VIA Institute on Character. They have been well researched: over five million people have taken the survey and there’s masses of information on their website which will allow you (and your school) to find out more and to test your character strengths scientifically.
The 24 character strengths. (In the podcast, I omitted the definitions.)
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence – do you get a buzz from seeing something you think is beautiful? Do you feel admiration when you see something that required real skill?
Bravery – how willing are you to try things you might fail at? Do you try out for teams even though you might not be selected or might not excel? Do you stand up for your opinions even if others disagree?
Creativity – do you spend time on art, music, photography, writing, or a hobby involving making things? Do you have creative ideas and imagination? Do you tend to have unusual approaches to problems?
Curiosity – are you keen to investigate and discover new things? Do you like new experiences? Do you want to know how things work?
Fairness – how important are fairness and justice to you? Do you feel angry when you see someone being treated unfairly or when you have been treated unfairly? If there was a rule you thought was unfair, would you fight to have it changed?
Forgiveness – can you ‘move on’ after someone has apologised (or even if they haven’t)? Or do you hold grudges and think differently of the person who has wronged you, even after the incident has blown over?
Gratitude – do you feel and show gratitude for good things in your life? Are you aware of the good things and able to remember them when something bad happens?
Honesty – are you true to yourself, not pretending to be who you aren’t? Do you value sincerity, truthfulness and honesty?
Hope – how optimistic are you about life? Do you expect good things to happen to you? If you imagine your future, is it bright? Do you describe yourself as a mostly lucky person?
Humility – when you’ve achieved something excellent, are you able not to boast about it? Are you a modest person, able to praise other people’s achievements?
Humour – are you often playful and lighthearted? Do you tend to see the lighter side of a situation and find humour even when things are difficult?
Judgment – are you good at critical thinking, thinking through all sides of an argument, not jumping to conclusions?
Kindness – do you enjoy doing things for others? Do you make sacrifices for other people?
Leadership – are you keen on organising other people to get things done? Do you find you can positively influence others to get them to work towards a goal?
Love – are you able to love and to accept when someone loves you? Is it important to you to be close to others and to genuinely like them?
Love of Learning – do you like practising and becoming expert at new skills and topics, adding to your knowledge? Do you enjoy learning new facts and understanding more?
Perspective (you might also call this wisdom) – do you often manage to come to a sensible and logical conclusion about things rather than acting on emotion? Can you think about and discuss moral issues and see other people’s points of view, so that you can find a solution that isn’t just about what you want?
Perseverance – if you don’t succeed the first time, are you strong and resilient enough to try again? Can you think of something you kept trying at even though it didn’t work out several times?
Prudence – are you careful and thoughtful about your choices and actions? Are you able to be cautious when necessary and avoid too much risk?
Self-Regulation – do you have good self-control, being able to stop yourself doing something that is tempting? When you know there’s something you shouldn’t do, are you able to stop yourself? When you feel angry, are you able to control this well?
Social intelligence (you might call this empathy) – how in tune are you with others? Do you care what others are feeling? Do you often try to help when someone is feeling bad? How aware are you that different people may think and feel differently from you?
Spirituality – do you have a spiritual side? Do you have faith in a higher meaning or a religion that you feel connected to and that gives you comfort?
Teamwork – is it important to you to work well in a team? Do you think society needs people like you who are socially responsible, thinking of others? Are you a loyal person and do you value supporting other people? Would you call yourself a good citizen, in your family, your school, your groups or the wider community?
Zest – how much energy do you usually feel? Do you approach most activities in a positive, excited way? If you’re about to try something new or tackle a problem, do you dive in with enthusiasm and a ‘can do’ approach?
(Character strengths © Copyright 2004-2018, VIA Institute on Character. All rights reserved. Used with permission)
So, your activity for this week is assess your character strengths
The only way to get an accurate picture is to do the survey on the VIA Character website. But if you can’t do that now or prefer not to, here are ways to think about these strengths in relation to you.
Here’s your task:
- Write down the four or five strengths you believe you would score best on
- Write down the three to five you believe you would score least well on
- Can you think of one or two reasons or examples for why you chose each one?
- For your strongest ones, can you think of one action you could perform in the next few days that would build it further?
- For your weakest ones, first think about whether you would like to improve these strengths. If there is one that you really don’t care about, cross it out. For each of the others, can you think of one action you could perform in the next few days that would improve it?
- Write them as goals: things you plan to do. Make your goals clear, achievable and easy to measure. Remember that I talked about SMART goals in the first of the 52 Ways?
You can build a positive attitude and grow your self-esteem if you find ways to exercise your main strengths even more and do simple things to boost your lesser ones. Character strengths are not fixed skills: you can improve them if you want to. Just keep them in mind and look out for opportunities.
End of extract.
Now you’ve discovered your best strengths, you can see which ones you used for the three things that went well today. You might be thinking, “But what about things like I had chips for lunch – what character strength did I use for that? After all, I didn’t make the chips.” Well, you used gratitude and also zest or excitement in order to appreciate that you had food that you liked. And maybe they were particularly beautiful chips – you could have used your appreciation of excellence to appreciate those wonderful chips. Yes, trivial, but better for your mood than going round thinking everything is awful. Even chips.
What went well for you today? (And if you don’t want to do the character strength bit, that’s fine.)
My three things today (I didn’t include these in the blog post, as it was getting a bit long):
- The snow has stopped! (I’m using GRATITUDE for this.)
- I was EXTREMELY excited because a friend rescued me in her big car and took me to a supermarket – the first time I’d been able to buy food for six days. (My over-the-top excitement about this was an example of using ZEST for life.)
- I took some photos of amazing sn ow patterns. (CREATIVITY and APPRECIATION OF BEAUTY.)
That’s it for this week.
Do subscribe to my podcast for all the other 52 Ways to Wellbeing through the year. Teachers and parents can subscribe to my website (see the home page) to get automatic monthly updates of all my articles and news of things like giveaways and competitions. And there will definitely be giveaways and comps for the publication of Positively Teenage (May) and The Teenage Guide to Life Online (June). I am planning things with my publishers, Hachette Children’s Group and Walker Books, at the moment.
Remember: your brain and wellbeing are in your hands – you have more control than you think and I can show you how.
(Schools, feel free to use these podcasts for assemblies or whatever you want. Don’t forget to check out Stress Well for Schools and Brain Sticks, my super-value teaching materials with a perpetual, limitless licence that you can use with every pupil in your school, forever. Yes, forever. I know! Crazy.)