My last article introduced the importance of whole person well-being and how to complete a SPIRE check-in to target elements of well-being that might need a boost. Today, I follow up by connecting character strengths with each element of SPIRE. Think of it as exploring your well-being in a strength-based way.

This article is my interpretation of how character strengths can help us cultivate:

  • Greater spirituality (S)
  • Healthy physical habits (P)
  • Intellectual challenge (I)
  • Robust relationships (R)
  • Positive emotions (E) 

If you haven’t yet, read the last post for an introduction to the SPIRE approach to well-being and a few simple tools to help you apply it today.

The Inspiration

Some well-being approaches fail to include key elements of well-being like the mind-body connection, or the spiritual nature of humans. 

SPIRE is an approach that engages the whole person as she or he attempts to flourish in work and life – the spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional components of well-being. This image describes this approach. 

Below is my interpretation of some connections between character strengths and SPIRE. Many are backed by research. I provided links to each strength so you can explore different ways to apply each one.

See what connections you can make.

S – Cultivate Spirituality

When raising the S in Spire, the character strength spirituality probably comes to mind. From the VIA Institute on Character’s website:

Spirituality has been defined consistently by scientists as the search for or connection with “the sacred”… That which is blessed, holy, revered, or particularly special… experienced in the forgiveness offered by a child, a humble moment between a leader and a subordinate, an awe-inspiring sunset, a profound experience during meditation or a religious service, or the self-sacrificing kindness of a stranger. As a character strength, spirituality involves the belief that there is a dimension to life that is beyond human understanding.

Both secular and non-secular activities, then, can help provide that shift in S. If you’re interested in specific ways to boost spirituality, take a look at this article by Ryan Niemiec, Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character. 

In another sense, any character strength from the transcendence virtue can lead to more meaning in your life. These other strengths include the appreciation of beauty and excellencegratitude, hope, and humor.

P – Maintain Healthy Physical Habits

When I think about the physical body, the character strength zest immediately comes to mind. Zest is the vital energy and enthusiasm that some people bring to everyday life. In a recent coaching call, a client was delighted to discover that zest can activate other character strengths. She intuitively knew it was her go-to strength even though it wasn’t a signature strength. For example, getting into physical action when stuck on a problem activated her critical thinking (judgment). She appreciated having the language to describe her experience.  

In research, almost every character strength contributes in some way to healthy physical habits. This article outlines eleven habits, like having an active lifestyle or eating healthy, and the character strengths that are linked with those habits. I summarized the character strengths as a group and found that self-regulation shows up most often, followed by prudence, hope, and zest.

These character strengths don’t necessarily cause healthy habits, but you should consider them when boosting the P in your SPIRE check-in. Self-regulation helps with the discipline to establish a new habit. Prudence helps us be cautious and make wise choices. Hope helps us envision becoming healthier. 

I – Feel Intellectually Challenged

Strengths from the wisdom virtue help you gather and use knowledge. These include creativitycuriosityjudgmentlove of learning, and perspective. Elevating any of these strengths can support you in feeling intellectually challenged. For instance, creativity helps you innovate. Curiosity helps you explore. Judgment helps you think critically. Love of learning leads you to mastery. Perspective helps you see a wider view of situations. Any of these strengths, whether a signature strength or not, can potentially help you feel challenged intellectually.

But I believe other strengths can lead to intellectual challenges, too. Fairness, one of my middle strengths, comes to mind as I think more deeply about racial divides in the United States. Teamwork, another middle strength, leads me to think about how to collaborate more fully with personal and professional partners. These are great intellectual challenges, and ones that I’m up for right now. 

R – Build Robust Relationships

Clearly, the humanity strengths can help you build and maintain your relationships. Love, kindness, and social intelligence are essential for connecting with others, showing you care, and communicating understanding.

Two others that might be less obvious are curiosity and gratitude. Curiosity is not only about exploring but showing interest. It shouldn’t be surprising that those who show more interest connect well with others. In addition, the curious person showing the interest tends to feel closer due to getting to know new facets of others. This article by Todd Kashdan and John Roberts shows some of the effects of curiosity on relationships. In other studies, curious people were found to enjoy socializing more and cope better with rejection.

The research-based benefits of expressing gratitude is a whole other blog post. When you appreciate the actions of another – even in small moments when they notice your favorite color or remember an important date – relationships strengthen. Gratitude is essential to happy and caring relationships. 

Think about what your life would be like without an important person in it. If you were to stop and picture the details, it would likely feel pretty bleak and empty, maybe worse. Expressing gratitude benefits the recipient and you. It’s one way to avoid taking those you care about the most for granted.

E – Accept Painful Emotions and Cultivate Positive Emotions

In my personal and professional experiences, accepting painful emotions often requires an act of courage. That’s why character strengths from the courage virtue – bravery, perseverance, honesty, and zest – come to mind. 

In my work with coaching and workshop clients, unacknowledged shame, anger, and fear often drive people to act in ways that don’t reflect their values or certainly who they are when at their best. Honesty can shine a light on those emotions and actions so they can be understood. Taking a bold step in a new direction can be an act of bravery for many. Persevering through fear is the essence of courage. Zest can provide activation energy.

Many character strengths are also positive emotions – hope, gratitude, love. Cultivating these individual strengths as well as one’s signature strengths boosts positive emotions. I always start each team meeting, client call, and workshop with an activity that boosts positive emotions. It brings down defenses when people feel guarded, allows participants to leave behind whatever came before, and helps us all focus on building what needs to be built and solving what needs to be solved. 

The Practice

This week’s practice builds on completing a SPIRE check-in, outlined in my last blog post.

  1. To begin, download, print, and follow the instructions on this worksheet.
  2. Use your summary scores to identify which elements are in need of a boost.
  3. Choose one character strength to put into action in order to boost that element.
  4. Now, try it out. 

Try to notice how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what happens as a result of your strength-based action.

The Reflection

The character strength I chose helped boost __________________ (the SPIRE element I chose), by __________________. 

Perhaps you chose humor to reduce tension in a team meeting to boost relationships or appreciation of beauty and excellence to boost spirituality. Feel free to write down your reflection, allowing your thoughts to flow freely. Or talk it through with a trusted friend.

Feel free to check-in weekly to increase your well-being.

May you always feel inSPIREd,