What is Character? | Sahaja Online

Character Strengths Guide

Character Guide Overview

What is Character?

No two people have the exact same constellation of character strengths. Each of us has certain characteristics and abilities that seem to come naturally and effortlessly. Others we have to work a little bit harder to achieve and consistently maintain. But these unique configurations of traits are part of what make us individuals. They also create new opportunities for personal growth and continued evolution to ever-higher states of consciousness.

If you ask someone how they define character, chances are, they’ll reel off a quick list that includes qualities such as honesty, integrity, courage, compassion and kindness. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes that complicated idea of character. Psychologists generally view individual character traits as stable and distinctive qualities, a persisting pattern of attitudes and motives that tend to predict kinds and qualities of moral behavior. Character is a constellation of mental and ethical or moral qualities distinctive to an individual, patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings that are based on principles and moral judgements that certainly includes those “lines that you never cross.” “Good character” is actually a family of positive character traits. Character traits are not segregated mechanisms that have automatic effects on behavior; rather, virtuous behavior involves choosing virtue for itself and applying that character strength in your life plan.

Perhaps most importantly, we should view character strengths as qualities that determine our response to life situations, regardless of circumstances. A character strength is a disposition to act, desire, and feel. It involves judgment. Ultimately, it leads to recognizable human excellence and human flourishing.

While character may include performance, or what’s sometimes referred to as performance character (maximizing our performance in every arena), character is much more than what we display for the world to see. It also includes the internal fibers of our being, moral character — always making the right, honest, ethical choice, which is always evidenced by virtuous actions in both the moral and performance areas of one’s life. Character, ultimately, is who we are even when no one else is watching. Character strength means doing the right thing, even if it costs us more than we want to pay. Good character is more than reputation — what others think of us. Or as Abraham Lincoln once said, “Reputation is the shadow; character is the tree.”

While each character strength is distinctive, all strengths share common attributes. First, they’re ubiquitous, widely recognized across cultures, and often, the deliberate target of societal practices and rituals that endeavor to cultivate it. They all contribute to individual fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness. Each is morally valued in its own right, and not for the tangible outcomes it may produce. No one character strength ever diminishes others; it, should, in fact, elevate those who witness it, producing admiration, not jealousy. Any one character trait may be missing altogether in some people; in fact, you may be able to easily spot its absence or notice that it has an obvious opposite, a negative antonym (e.g., dishonesty instead of honesty). But you’ll also notice individuals who seem to be paragons of a particular strength. Character strengths are often strikingly embodied in some people, including precocious child prodigies (Park et al, 2004).

If our successes and failures in life depend on how we respond to events and circumstances, then it is our character strengths that determine our success. You can think of character strengths as your personal bundle of potential, just waiting to be explored and developed.

How Do Character Strengths Impact Your Life?

Developing character strengths significantly influences quality of life. Character automatically trickles down into every aspect of your life, from your daily interactions with others to your ability to live an authentic self-actualized, self-realized life — a life in which you are not only living with purpose and meaning and fulfilling your highest potential, but a life of endless horizons. There will always be a higher peak to scale

Understanding your own character strengths is the genesis of your path to self-discovery and ultimately, long-term self-improvement. In a practical sense, an understanding of character strengths becomes a guiding compass for who you are and who you can become. Knowing your highest, best self ultimately allows you to make a difference not only in the world around you, but in the greater universe and humanity as a whole.

Several research groups have extensively studied the components of character, seeking to classify character traits and identify the building blocks of each. The VIA Classification of Character Strengths, for example, can be a useful framework for understanding those building blocks and analyzing your own character (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

In 2000, 55 leading social scientists collaborated to answer the question: What are the very best attributes of human beings? Over the course of three years, these researchers scoured the world’s repository of important literature about religion, philosophy, organizational studies, youth development, psychiatry, psychology and other disciplines to pinpoint the virtues and character strengths that have been universally and morally valued across time and across all cultures. The result was a list of 24 character strengths, which you’ll find in the Character Traits Guide.

Breaking down the building blocks of a particular character strength allows you to focus on improving narrower, specific qualities that contribute to each trait, which tends to be an easier, effective way to tackle complex virtue such as honesty. Let’s say that you resolve to be a more honest person. Where do you start? Well, you can first focus on improving each of the fundamental qualities of honesty, such as truthfulness, integrity, authenticity, accountability, etc. — one opportunity at a time. Collectively, you become more honest by becoming more truthful, more authentic, more accountable for your actions, etc.. And of course, in the grander scheme, as you work on strengthening specific character strengths, your overall character is improved.

The Character Traits Guide is designed to help you know your character strengths and put them to work in everyday life. Understanding the true makeup of your character will increase your life satisfaction, well-being and your relationships with Self and others. (To see the evidence, check out Character Strength Evidence.)

Through a Sahaja meditative practice, you can identify the character traits that could use improvement and harness the power of the trait-associated chakra (energy center) to evolve to even greater heights.

References

Park, Nansook, Peterson, Christopher, Seligman, Martin. Strengths of Character and Well-Being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2004, pp. 603-619.

Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and measuring strengths of character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd edition (pp. 25-33). New York: Oxford University Press. www.viacharacter.org

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. www.viacharacter.org

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. www.viacharacter.org