What are character strengths? And how do they help us progress on our journey to happiness?

In his quest to answer “what is happiness,” Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman developed the PERMA model. PERMA stands for the 5 key elements of “authentic happiness” – the kind of happiness that is true, and long-lasting. Positive Emotions, Engagement (or Flow), Relationships, Meaning (or Purpose), and Accomplishments.

In one of our courses, “Purpose: Design Your Meaningful Life” we explore the “M” in PERMA by diving into Meaning and Purpose. Our starting point in uncovering what drives meaning in your life, is to explore our character strengths.

What are character strengths?

Usually, people find it quite difficult to talk about what they are good at. It seems like something you shouldn’t speak up about. If I ask you, what do you excel in, do you know? And would you feel free to speak up about it? What if we ask a few of your friends, could they describe your strengths? I’m sure they would.

Because of course, you have tons of strengths. You may not always think about them, or be able to articulate them – but you have them! Maybe some of these strengths overlap with strengths others have as well. But some of your strengths must be quite unique to you. We call those strengths, you character strengths.

Character strengths are those strengths that:

  • Are the positive parts of your personality
  • Impact how you think, feel and behave
  • Are the keys to you being your best self
  • When applied effectively, are beneficial both to you and society
  • Reflect the “real” you, who you are at your core

Why do we care about our character strengths?

Everyone has good and bad sides. And traditionally, people may have said to you to focus on those things you’re not good at. And fix them. What Positive Psychology posits, is that we are better off by doing MORE of what we’re GOOD at – instead of spending that time of trying to fix what we’re NOT GOOD at.

The VIA Institute of Character, that developed this model based on extensive research, identified 24 unique character strengths. Through an online test that takes about 15 minutes, you can discover which strengths are strongest within you. Because, the Institute states that it’s not like you only have some of these strengths. In fact, everyone has at least a bit of each strength. The test just shows you, which strengths you rank highest on.

What are the character strengths?

These are the 24 Character Strengths, in the categories Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence. You can click on the image for the full size version.


Creativity: Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are.

Curiosity: You like exploration and discovery.

Judgement: You think things through and examine them from all sides.

Love of Learning: You have a passion for mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge.

Perspective: People who know you consider you wise.

Courage Character Strengths

Bravery: You do not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain.

Honesty: You live your life in a genuine and authentic way.

Perseverance: You work hard to finish what you start.

Zest: You approach everything you do with excitement and energy.

Character strengths - What is your personal Purpose
Test your character strengths


Kindness: You are kind and generous to others.null

Love: You value close relations with others.

Social Intelligence: You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Justice Character Strengths

Fairness: You treating people fairly as one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.

Leadership: You excel at encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Teamwork: You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group.


Forgiveness: You are good at forgiving those who have done you wrong.
You always give people a second chance. You believe in mercy, and not revenge.

Humility: You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.

Prudence: You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.

Self-Regulation: You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.

Transcendence character strengths

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Gratitude: You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express thanks.

Hope: You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it.
You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Humor: You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.

Spirituality: You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you.

What are your character strengths?

Just reading these strengths above, which one do you feel like you possess the most? If you want to find out fully, you can take the interactive online survey. (The most common strengths are Fairness, Curiosity and Love but in our workshops we’ve seen a lot of other ones rank Top 3 as well!)

Via Character Strengths test

This test is completely free and will be a great start to understanding yourself better. You will get a report of all the character strengths, ranked by which ones you have most of.

And if you’re interested in learning more about Meaning, the PERMA model, and how you can apply your character strengths in your everyday life – we welcome you to one of our upcoming “Purpose: Design Your Meaningful Life” training.

Character Strengths and Purpose Workshop Saigon Vietnam
Character Strengths and Purpose Workshop in Saigon, Vietnam

Author Daan van Rossum Daan is Bright’s founder and a certified Life Coach. Having lived on 3 continents, he’s been studying cross-cultural happiness for a number of years. Daan’s speciality is around positivity, understanding your life goals, entrepreneurship and creativity. Daan lives between Da Lat and Saigon, but his heart is always in the mountains. Besides his Bright jobs and his work as a freelance brand strategist, his most important job is that of husband to his wife My.

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