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October 06, 2022
233: Thrive in Life by Understanding Your Signature Strengths with Maya Acosta

Do you want to discover what your best qualities are? Join us as we use The VIA Survey of Character Strengths to uncover your greatest qualities and leverage your strengths to achieve your best life. Tune in to unleash your s...


Do you want to discover what your best qualities are? Join us as we use The VIA Survey of Character Strengths to uncover your greatest qualities and leverage your strengths to achieve your best life. Tune in to unleash your strengths!


Key takeaways to listen for 

  • VIA Institute on Character: History, purpose, and VIA survey 
  • Character strengths and virtues classification
  • Maya’s 5 signature strengths
  • How signature strengths are expressed from childhood to the present
  • The effects of under and over utilizing your strengths
  • Why signature strengths matters and how to cultivate them


Resources mentioned in this episode


Website Link for this episode:
https://www.healthylifestylesolutions.org/233


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Transcript

Today I will expand on the VIA Survey and Signature Strengths that our most recent podcast guest referenced as a way of enhancing our happiness.  

I took the VIA survey, received my results, and learned about my signature strengths and how they can support me in life. I will share the results to inspire you to take the free survey. 

We will look at each of the five signature strengths, how they've shown up in my life and how they appear when they are under and overused.  

Before we get started on the topic, I wanted to remind you that I head to Houston this Friday. The Peaceful Planet Foundation will be holding its annual retreat.  

There will be meditation, yoga, and nutrition sessions. Lunch is included. Dr. Garth Davis will be the keynote speaker. And I will be offering a nutrition workshop. I hope to see you there. Registration is now closed.

Also, friends, last week, my friend Amy asked me to do a food demo on her live online show. I was in the middle of teaching you how to make this dish when she lost power. Amy is in Fort Myers, Florida. This was a scary situation. I had to wrap up the live broadcast without her. So you can say the demo was a bit chaotic. Still, I am thankful for the opportunity to share another family recipe. 

Also, I was recently on another podcast called Ageless Conversations with Tamika McTier. I will add the link to the show notes so you can learn more about me. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ageless-conversations with-tamika-mctier/id1544280786?i=1000580291591 

Okay, let's talk about positive psychology. Dr. Liana Lianov, a board-certified physician and expert in lifestyle medicine, was this week's podcast guest. She has a passion for positive psychology and has studied the science of happiness extensively, intending to help people live their happiest and healthiest lives. 

We spoke about various ways we can enhance our happiness. One of those tools was the VIA Institute's free character survey. They say people who live optimally using their signature strengths live happier and longer than those who do not.  

Let's start from the beginning. What is the VIA institute, what are the character strengths, and why should we care? 

History 

The VIA Institute started with a simple question: "what is best in people?"  Then they set out to find those universal character strengths in each of us. 

In the early 2000s, the VIA Institute supported a 3-year, 55-scientist study led by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Their book, Character Strengths, and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, was this research's groundbreaking result. The project involved creating the VIA  survey. Researchers surveyed thousands of people worldwide from various cultures, religions, and races. 

About the VIA Institute on Character 

The VIA Institute on Character is a non-profit organization located in  Cincinnati, Ohio. They focus on the science of character strengths by creating and validating surveys. These tools are made available for the general public to develop their strengths. Professionals such as therapists, managers, and educators can also access the tools and research to work with others. There are over 800 research studies on character strengths that you can check out on the website by simply reading a short summary of the study.

What Is the VIA Survey? 

The VIA Survey is a personality test that measures individual character strengths. Rather than focusing on our character flaws and we focus on what is best about us. 

By learning about our character strengths and developing them, we can use them to face challenges, reach our goals, and feel more fulfilled in life.   

This survey is free and available in over 40 languages. It is the premier tool in positive psychology that assesses an individual's character strengths. The VIA Survey has been taken in every country across the globe. 

Our Work on Character Strengths Research 

I watched Dr. Neal Mayerson's presentation on the importance of understanding and applying character strengths to improve ourselves and our world. You can watch the presentation on the website or on Youtube. It is called A Character Strengths Revolution and I will add a link in the show notes.  

The 24 Character Strengths 

Each of us has all 24 character strengths, and we express them differently. These 24 character strengths can be grouped into six virtue categories which are universal.  

Explain the 24 strengths. Read from the website the list of strengths. 

The 6 virtues are wisdom, transcendence, temperance, justice, courage, and humanity.  

Dr. Mayerson's presentation compares our strengths to individual plant seeds. We plant our seeds in a flower bed and watch them bloom.  

Some of our seeds become beautiful flowers. Some of the seeds appear weak and grow slowly. Regardless, all the seeds are essential and contribute to the landscape. 

Similarly, those strengths we use often are called our signature strengths. They are those beautiful flowers that are flourishing. When we are using our signature strengths optimally, we are our happiest.  

We have the middle strengths we use to some degree, and then we have the least used character strengths that require nurturing.

Strengths can change, and they can be developed. Life changes such as marriage, having a child, joining the military, or suffering trauma can cause changes in character. 

The goal of taking the VIA Character Survey is to focus on our five signature strengths. These qualities are likely to come naturally to you. As a result, you may not see them as strengths. They are essential, meaning they make up who you are. They are effortless and come naturally to you. These five signature strengths are energizing and leave you feeling happy.  

Let's move on to my five signature strengths.  

I am sharing all this to give you more insight into who I am. I also hope you will be curious enough to take the survey to see how this may enhance your happiness level. Keep in mind that I am not affiliated with the institute. I am simply sharing because of my love for learning.  

To learn about your signature strengths, take the VIA survey at  viacharacter.org.  

Here are my five signature strengths:  

  1. Love of learning 
  2. Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence  
  3. Curiosity  
  4. Honesty  
  5. Kindness  

You will also fall into one of the six virtues. Mine is wisdom. This is interesting because I have found that I often pray for wisdom when I am under duress and facing a difficult situation.  

Wisdom is described as having a strong desire to understand the world to operate more effectively in that world. You are an analytical thinker and good at coming up with ideas, thinking about different topics, and learning new areas. You are particularly good at seeking and growing your knowledge and expressing it to others. This helps you solve problems effectively.  

Let's explore each signature strengths. I will read the definition as described by the institute. Then I will spotlight how my signature strength was expressed in my younger years. Then I will share how I express the strength today. Finally, we will look at underusing and overusing each strength.  

Love of Learning 

"I am motivated to acquire new levels of knowledge, or deepen my existing knowledge or skills in a significant way." 

WHAT IS THE LOVE OF LEARNING? 

Love of learning means a passion for learning, a desire to learn just for learning's sake. In fact, curiosity and love of learning are among the most closely related strengths in the VIA Classification. They can still be distinguished though. While curiosity is the motivating force that leads you to seek out new information, love of learning refers to the desire to hold on to and deepen that information.

The curious person is motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. The person who loves learning is inspired by the expansion of their fund of knowledge.  

Where curiosity is often associated with a great deal of energy and a drive to gather information, the lover of learning is often more contemplative. Love of learning describes how a person engages in new knowledge and skills.  

Love of learning is a strength teachers would like to see in their students, parents want to encourage in their children, therapists support their clients, and employers try to foster in their employees.  

It has essential motivational consequences because it helps people persist through challenges, setbacks, and negative feedback.

This might involve reading several books on a topic, taking a formal course, pursuing a new degree or certification, mastering a new trade, or pursuit a subject from multiple angles.  

Facts:  

  • Love of learning is a strength shared by many people. Some studies show that over 50% of people rank love of learning as a signature strength.  
  • Research has shown that learning something new is a more effective strategy when you are feeling stressed than relaxation exercises. It helps contribute to an overall feeling of competence and personal growth.  

How has this strength shown up in my life? 

My parents drove into us the importance of being in this country. They made huge sacrifices when they left Mexico to raise us here in the states. I  recall joining a book club early in my life and feeling exhilarated when my books arrived by mail.  

Elementary school was especially difficult for me. It seemed that every year I was at risk of failing each grade. But my teachers encouraged me for the most part. I recall feeling on top of the world once I learned to read and write in English. I would often be the kid in the class who read the most pages each week. So I received little ribbons and personal notes from teachers that I still hold on to.  

My parents were not able to receive a formal education. They only studied  to the sixth grade in Mexico. But I have always viewed them as knowledgeable and valuable for what they had to offer me. I often wondered about the world around me because we grew up in a small circle and only spoke Spanish at home. I asked about how others experienced the world.  

Today, I continue to build my library. I see how beneficial it is to understand content related to health and wellness. It is no wonder that I am a podcaster who thrives on interviewing guests who bring so much information to the table. I feel exhilarated after each interview because I have gained new knowledge. At the same time, having one-on-one interaction is very rewarding. I often view each person as a book I am curious to read.

I was very much into personal development for many years and read many books on healing my life. Today one of my passions is cooking, so I study recipes, cooking techniques, and how to enhance my cooking demos. I do the same for the podcast. I spend time learning about the field and how I can improve my work.  

Let's look at what happens when this strength is under or overused: I underuse my strength when I am stressed and have too much on my plate. When my love of learning is underused I am uninterested. But the love of learning is not just about the topics; it also addresses how I am in relationships and work. In relationships, I can appear disconnected. Perhaps even taking my partner for granted.  

Let's look at the overuse of love of learning. A person in the overuse mode of love of learning can appear to many as a know-it-all. I am guilty of being that person. I pay attention to what I am saying nowadays because I  find that not everyone is interested in learning about a topic like I am.  

I typically overshare not because I want to appear to know so much but because I feel the information may be valuable to others as it has been to me. For example, I am sharing about the character strengths, not because  I want to look like an expert but because I dove into the content and want to share it with you. I am now sharing details of my strengths to give you insight into how they work and how they may help you in your life.  

As a matter of fact, I have just started a 30-day challenge where I will not be watching TV, Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube. I find that I take in way too much information. I enjoy documentaries, and I use YouTube to research a  topic. But frankly, I spend too much time watching content.  

The optimal use of love of learning is to continue to seek out information and continue to be a lifelong learner while at the same time enjoying life. I still appreciate people because they help me stay in the present moment. This is very fulfilling for me. I bring kindness to the table and enjoy what others add to my life.  

 

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence 

"I recognize, emotionally experience, and appreciate the beauty around  me and the skill of others." 

WHAT IS AN APPRECIATION OF BEAUTY & EXCELLENCE? Those who express an appreciation of beauty & excellence 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. 

People high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to  these three types of goodness: 

 

PHYSICAL BEAUTY

This may include auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the person experiencing it. 

SKILL OR TALENT (EXCELLENCE). 

This is often energizing and compels a person to pursue their own goals. It inspires admiration. 

VIRTUE OR MORAL GOODNESS (MORAL BEAUTY). 

Virtuous goodness makes someone want to be better and more loving and creates feelings of elevation. 

Facts:  

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence allows you to savor moments and increases your feelings of gratitude for the greatness in the world.  
  • This strength allows you to take blinders off your eyes and connect with nature, other people, the larger world, and the transcendent.  

How has this strength shown up in my life? 

I am artsy. I love theatre, opera, and musical events.  

I took up the hobby of photography in high school. This was at a time when many of us still processed our own film and printed our own images in the dark room. Watching an image appear on paper was like art manifesting before my eyes.

Appreciating beauty has helped in coping with my emotions. I had a challenging childhood. As a result, I was often angry or hurt. Whenever possible, I would walk to a nearby park to sit by myself and reflect on life. I found nature to be a refuge where I would be protected and connected to something greater than myself.  

During the fall of 2020, my husband and I were exposed to COVID and had to quarantine. It was an awful experience. I was fragile, hardly ate, and my entire body ached. To this day, I turn to nature for comfort.  

Towards the end of my quarantine, I went to a nearby lake to have a cup of soup while I watched a sunset. I remember how beautiful the colorful trees reflected off the calm water. I was again reminded that life supports and cares for me even during difficult times.  

I spend a lot of time in my home office; as a result, I need to be surrounded by beautiful colors, books on health, and small things that remind me of what I love about life.  

Let's look at what happens when this strength is under or overused: Being too busy contributes to my underusing the strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence.  

I work on projects for hours and forget to disconnect from work to enjoy the beauty that brings me a positive emotional experience. Being in the present moment leads me to periods of calm, peace, and acceptance of the good and the bad.  

Overusing this strength can lead to perfectionism, where we are never satisfied with good enough. I am never happy with a presentation or project that I worked on. I usually see room for improvement. I've had to allow myself to be okay with my work and appreciate my efforts.  

The optimal use of the strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence would mean seeing the beauty in all and being grateful for it. I enjoy the cooking process as I am usually in a zen mode. I see the beauty in the creation I am working on.  

When I have worked continuously for 2-3 hours, I take a 20-min break to walk my dog around our property. I take the time to notice the beauty around me. This helps me return to work and focus again without feeling so drained.  

 

Curiosity 

"I seek out situations where I gain new experiences without getting in my  own or other people's way." 

WHAT IS CURIOSITY? 

To be curious is to explore and discover, to take an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake.  

You find many subjects and topics fascinating. Anything can be explored further, and there are always new people, places, situations, and ideas to discover. Therefore you have several interests and are involved in various activities and/or projects. 

It is fulfilling to journey toward an answer, to engage in a new experience,  or to learn a new fact.  

There are two critical components of curious individuals: They are interested in exploring new ideas, activities, and experiences, and they also have a strong desire to increase their own personal knowledge. Curiosity is one of the five strengths most connected to happiness.  

Facts: 

  • Curiosity is often the entry point to many lifelong hobbies, passions, and pursuits. It is strongly linked with satisfaction with life and work.  
  • Curiosity fosters an open and accepting mindset, an essential strength for creating intimacy in relationships and finding meaning in life.  

How has this strength shown up in my life? 

As a child, we had many financial limitations. As a result, our summers were the worst for me. I despised being at home with nothing to do but watch television. This was when I spent more time outdoors, often recreating the scenes from Gilligan's Island or the Get Smart show. I enjoyed figuring out how I could leave a treasure hidden in my own backyard or how I could use my shoe as a telephone.

Then my mother got us involved with the Boys and Girls Club. This was a safe place for the rest of us kids who could not afford summer camp or other learning programs. I became curious about many different topics at the Boys and Girls Club and am forever grateful for the organization.  

Today, my curiosity continues to thrive. While I love traveling, I am now curious about how I can travel and still continue to eat healthy meals. I am curious about connecting with locals in the area I visit so that I am not just a tourist.  

My life coach guides me to be curious about a difficult situation as there is an opportunity to further learn about myself.   

Let's look at what happens when this strength is under or overused: Underusing my curiosity shows up as being bored, uninterested, tired, or distracted. This is rare. 

When my curiosity is overused, I may appear nosy or intrusive by asking too many questions. My curiosity can distract me from work when I jump from one topic to another. I get distracted by emails, internet content, and television. Again, I am doing a 30-day television fast as a result.

Optimal use would mean that I continued to be intrigued and open. My mind is filled with wonder and interest. I ask questions and allow people to share stories. I keep the engagement high without being intrusive.  

 

Honesty 

"I am honest to myself and to others, I try to present myself and my reactions accurately to each person, and I take responsibility for my  actions." 

WHAT IS HONESTY? 

When you are honest, you speak the truth. More broadly, you present yourself genuinely and sincerely, without pretense, and take responsibility for your feelings and actions. 

You are a person of integrity who keep your promises. You act genuinely and sincerely.  

This strength involves accurately representing your internal states,  intentions, and commitments publicly and privately.  

Honesty is a corrective strength that protects you against judgment errors. When the decision must be made between the easy thing and the right thing to do, you choose the right thing.  

How has this strength shown up in my life? 

When I was in middle school, I recall one day seeing two classmates having a conflict. Our teacher took them to another room, where he taught them to face each other and address the issue. This was the first time I  witnessed conflict resolution.  

For most of my life, I was afraid to speak up. I suppose you can say that I  did not have a voice. I don't like gossip, and even when I participate in it, I can feel negative feedback within my body.  

It has only been more recently that I have begun to speak up and tell my truth. I credit my life coaches with helping me understand how to come from an adult space rather than from the inner child afraid of the consequences of speaking my truth.  

I feel like I am who I am even when no one looks. How I think of myself matters more than how others view me. I suppose I am the hardest on myself.  

For me, honesty is associated with setting healthy boundaries. This is still something that I am working on. But by being honest and sincere with others, I am protecting my energy and mental health.  

If I do not want to do something, I am learning that it is okay to say so without being afraid.  

I am also working on how I give feedback. I can be abrupt and quick to express myself without considering how devastating my honesty can be to that person. My intentions are never to hurt others. 

Let's look at what happens when this strength is under or overused: Underuse of honesty shows up when people are secretive and withhold.   

When overused, one can appear rude and self-righteous. This can be hurtful.  

Optimal use, I am honest with myself and others. People trust my word.  

 

Kindness 

"I am helpful and empathic and regularly do nice favors for others without  expecting anything in return." 

WHAT IS KINDNESS? 

Simply put, kindness is being friendly to others. Kindness is being generous with others, giving your time, money, and talent to support those in need.  

Kindness is being compassionate, which means being there for someone, listening intently to their suffering, or just sitting with them and silently supporting them. Such compassion involves a deep concern for the welfare of others.  

Kind individuals believe that others are worthy of attention and affirmation for their own sake as human beings, not out of a sense of duty or principle. There are three traits of altruistic personalities: 

  • Empathy/sympathy 
  • Moral reasoning 
  • Social responsibility

 How has this strength shown up in my life? 

When I was a child in Mexico City, a neighbor had just given birth. At the time, I had a small doll that wore a dress. I took her dress off and gave it to our neighbor. I overheard my mother speaking about the neighbor not having the resources to put clothes on her child. Noticing those in need has always been part of who I am. 

My curiosity about health issues further developed when a close friend at work developed lupus. I quickly took the time to research her condition and found holistic approaches to help her alleviate her pain. She eventually decided on her own path to her state.  

Being kind is not always easy when I am stressed. But I need to be kind to people in the service industry. The everyday person could use a friendly smile, a simple hello, or a compliment. Often I am the one who feels great after acknowledging someone else.  

Let's look at what happens when this strength is under or overused: An example of the underuse of this strength is being indifferent or too busy to notice others in need.  

Overuse of kindness can happen when an individual gives so much to others that they have little left for themselves. Giving too much away reduces the chance that they will give again in the future. Sometimes people expect something in return.  

Optimal use of kindness is taking care of yourself and being compassionate to others.  

Summary: 

What did I learn about myself? 

I learned that my signature strengths always play a role in my daily interactions in relationships, work, and various situations.  

The goal is to spot them and see how they help me build stronger relationships, and I learned to work on further nurturing them.  

Recommended Daily Activities: 

  1. Love of learning: During a break, set aside 5-10 minutes to research something of interest to you. What will you learn? How will you share that learning with others?  
  2. Appreciation of beauty: Keep a weekly log of moments in your relationships when you feel inspired by the good acts of others.
  3. Curiosity: Ask others direct questions such as "How are you feeling?" or "What are your thoughts about that?" and attentively listen to the response. 
  4. Honesty: Be honest with yourself. Name a struggle, a habit you want to change, or something you have avoided thinking about. Begin to face it with greater honesty.  
  5. Kindness: Use your kindness to be a good listener to a friend or to offer a random act of kindness to a stranger. Go out of your way to find someone new for whom you will do a kind act.  

I invite you to take the VIA Survey free of charge. You will receive a simple report about all 24 strengths in order of how they appear in your life. Or you can simply purchase the book to learn more about each of the strengths. The complete information is more detailed.  

When we are fully expressing our signature strengths, we are our happiest.  We are thriving in life.  

As I walk through life, I am spotting how my signature strengths show up in my life. I pay attention to how they impact my relationships and work and help me solve problems.  

I hope you enjoyed today's topic. Remember, when you fully express your signature strengths, you are happiest.  

If you take the survey, feel free to email me to share what you learned about yourself at plantbasedmaya@gmail.com