MARTIN SELIGMAN is a giant of the field
of psychology. Hes a research professor and the former
president of the American Psychological Association. He created
a new branch of psychology Positive Psychology
and endowed it with undeniable credibility by initiating a tremendous
amount of good research. If anyone would know which character
traits improve your life, it is Seligman.
Seligman says an effective method of achieving
mental health and high functioning in other words, a good
way to improve your life is to cultivate specific character
traits rather than merely trying to reduce unwanted symptoms.
Seligman and his colleagues found that
certain human strengths lead to the good life. These character
traits nurture your mental and physical health. They improve
your life overall. They lead to feeling good and succeeding in
life. The seven core character strengths Seligman has identified
3. Interpersonal skill
4. Work ethic
If you want to improve your life, if you
want to do well in life, if you want to have a good life, you
should cultivate those strengths or traits in yourself. None
of these character traits are fixed. You can cultivate all
seven of these traits and make them your strengths.
How can you cultivate these character traits?
Ill give you some ideas for each trait in a moment, but
first you should know that there is a process you can do at home
that nurtures and strengthens all seven character traits at once:
how to make strong, mistake-free explanations of your setbacks.
The research on the way your explanations of setbacks can improve
your life has really piled up over the last 40 years. It is not
a tenuous theory. It is a fact: Improve your explanations and
it will strengthen the seven character traits above. It will
improve your life. Guaranteed.
But there are specific things you can do
to strengthen each character trait. Lets take them one
at a time:
1. Courage. Besides
improving your explanations of setbacks, there are many things
you can do to increase your courage. The first one I recommend
the art of not flinching. Another is to think in strong ways. You can gain courage
by changing what youre
What feels like a lack of courage is often
just overactive adrenal glands or an overactive imagination.
Both of these can be handled with a single exercise: The Silva method.
2. Optimism. The
most powerful way to become optimistic is to improve the way
you explain events with the Antivirus for Your Mind, but you can also
change the way
you talk to yourself. You may be trying to be optimistic
or trying to think positive and its not working
for one (or more) of three possible reasons. You can find out
what to do about it here: Why Positive Thinking Doesnt Work.
3. Interpersonal skill. You can improve your interpersonal skill by having a purpose in
social situations, changing
the way you judge people, becoming a better listener, staying calm and centered in social situations,
the way you compare yourself with others, improving
your ability to receive criticism, learning to restrain yourself from expressing
certain emotions, and learning
to distinguish between those who are good for you to associate
with and those who are not.
4. Work ethic. You
can improve your work ethic by simply moving with more energy, cultivating flow, thinking in a particular way about work,
finding a goal that
really matters to you, cultivating
your own motivation, and applying the Samurai effect on your boss.
5. Hope. The
difference between hope and optimism is that hope isnt
based in reality. Hope is in your imagination. You can expect the best
for no other reason than it doesnt hurt. If imagining a
particular outcome doesnt do any harm and does some good,
then there is no good reason not to imagine the good outcome.
Thats hope. It is best nurtured in a relaxed state (to subdue
the worry-producing functions of your brain). Im not
a big fan of hope. I prefer determination
instead, but if Seligman thinks hope is important, it probably
is. He is not one to assert anything unless its backed
by solid research.
You can nurture the character trait of honesty by reminding yourself
of the benefits of
honesty, by making
a careful distinction between who to be honest with and who to
be guarded with, by improving the way you express your honesty,
and by restraining yourself until you can be honest at the right
time and in the right way.
7. Perseverance. The
most powerful way to improve your perseverance is to root out the hidden pessimism lurking in your
mind and annihilating it. It also greatly helps to read true stories of people
succeeding against the odds. People often assume that youre
either motivated or your not. But in fact, many aspects of motivation can be deliberately
stoked, and if you want to succeed with your goals, it is
your responsibility to keep the fire of your motivation burning
hot. This is entirely doable.
After 45 years of doing some of the most
important psychological research ever done, having been the president
of the APA and being able to influence the national direction
of psychological research in America and actively trying to discover
what makes people live happy, fulfilling lives, Martin Seligman
came up with these seven character traits.
Out of all possible character traits, these
are the ones he singled out as essential to the good life. It
would be wise of us to take his list seriously. He is a careful
man. It took him literally decades to come up with this particular
list of traits.
Print out Seligmans list of character
traits, and over the next few years, take the time to nurture
each character trait in yourself, starting with the one you feel
needs the most work. You will begin to reap immediate rewards.
These are the kind of personal changes that produce dividends
of happiness, success, and fulfillment for the
rest of your life. Start today.