Positive Psychology Tools—and a Quiz—to Play to Your Strengths
In partnership with our friends at Flow
If standard psychology studies the rain clouds, thunder, and lightning of the human mind, positive psychology studies the rainbows. It’s not just cutesy affirmations (although there are plenty); positive psychology is a data-driven science. And it gives us a road map for what can make our lives not simply pleasant or good—but meaningful.
The key to employing positive psychology is learning to play to your strengths, says Niyc Pidgeon, MSc, a women’s life and entrepreneurship coach in Los Angeles. When we identify and maximize our strengths, we perform better across all aspects of our lives; we get more out of work, relationships, and achievements.
If you’re not sure exactly what your strengths are: There’s a quiz for that. Based on the positive psychology framework developed by researcher Martin E. P. Seligman—which divides human virtue into twenty-four distinct character strengths—the quiz takes your temperature on a slew of questions and spits out your top five traits.
And once you know those, says Pidgeon, the rainbows aren’t so far afield.
A Q&A with Niyc Pidgeon, MSc
It’s the science of happiness and how individuals, businesses, and communities can thrive. It’s what goes right with people, rather than what goes wrong.
Psychology, up until around the year 2000, looked primarily at disorder and disease. It looked at classifications of what goes wrong and why, giving definitions of mental illness. In 2000, the science of positive psychology was born, and it instead focuses on mental wellness: human strength and virtue.
The beauty of positive psychology is that it’s so simple. A lot of its teachings aren’t groundbreaking or new—and you’ll actually find that they’re reflected in everyday teachings that, perhaps, your parents or grandparents told you when you were young. Like: Always look on the bright side, or always say thank you.
Here’s a bedrock concept of positive psychology that’s the best place to start: Always adopt (or try to adopt) a growth mind-set. Openness and adaptability are key. I always consider how can I show up in my highest excellence or choose to be better every single day—whether that’s in conversations, at work, or just for myself.
Look at when somebody criticizes you and gives you feedback. How do you respond? Do you get defensive? Do you put up walls? Those are signs of the exact opposite of a growth mind-set: going into a fixed mind-set.
Optimism is what makes people choose to thrive and grow. Counterintuitively, I’ve found that optimism can come from an awareness of the stuff that isn’t working. I see a lot of people who are experiencing challenges and just want to ignore the fact that they’re experiencing those challenges. They want to ignore the negative experience. But learning to break down those challenges into concrete, positive steps is what gives you the hope that you’ll move past them. It takes a lot of bravery and courage and attention.
People often try to tackle the whole mountain before they’ve even taken the first step. That doesn’t work. Small, positive actions, performed daily, can contribute to greater momentum. We hope the end result is a larger transformation—but you’ve got to start somewhere, and you’ve got to start small, and you’ve got to start simple, and you’ve got to do it consistently. One foot in front of the other.
The other major aspect is support. Look at the people you have around you, identify who is cheering you on, and figure out how to invest more of your time in those people. I see it all the time—sometimes all people need is somebody they trust to say, “You’ve got this.” And that might be what you need to alter your mind-set and fuel those first steps forward.
Often, especially in school, we’re taught that you need to be good at everything—that if you don’t get good grades in every single subject, then you’re not a good student, or you’re not smart, or you won’t get into the right college or get the right job. But what we’ve found in positive psychology is that when people focus on their strengths, they actually perform better across all dimensions of their lives.
When positive psychology was first invented, a researcher named Martin E. P. Seligman built a classification system of twenty-four measurable character strengths and virtues. That theory states that every single one of us has twenty-four things we’re good at, to greater or lesser degrees. Seligman’s research showed that when people identify their top five strengths and learn to intentionally apply these strengths in their daily lives, they become stronger and more successful, reach their goals faster, and develop better relationships.
Looking at teams and organizations, we ask how each person can lean further into their top strengths and balance them out with other team members’ strengths. The same applies to families and relationships: How can our differences make us collectively better?
Niyc Pidgeon, MSc, is a life coach focused on positive psychology and female entrepreneurship. Pidgeon is the author of Now Is Your Chance, a thirty-day guidebook for positive life change, and she hosts online courses on career and finance issues.
4 THINGS WE LEARNED ABOUT
OURSELVES FROM TAKING THE QUIZ
We asked five goop staffers to take the Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths quiz. (You can access and take the quiz for yourself; you’ll just need to create a free profile first.)
Most of them were surprised by the quiz’s outcome, having expected some other trait—something they considered a defining personality point or a skill they use in their job—to come out on top. But just by getting them to explain why their results might make sense, we were able to walk away with concrete ideas on how to support—and encourage—those traits in our own lives.
| top strength: zest
producer, In goop Health
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“I didn’t know why this character trait ranked highest for me, until I learned that people who have zest as their top strength are people who approach all experiences with excitement and energy. This tracks for me in the grander, macro sense: I produce events and work as a life coach one-on-one, and there’s no way to enjoy those jobs and do them well if you’re not full of excitement and energy for every bit of those journeys. But also I try to take that approach with routine things that might otherwise be mundane, like increasing my water intake—gotta stay hydrated!—with Flow Alkaline Spring Water, which adds some literal flavor to the day.”
| top strength: gratitude
“It’s not every night, but before bed, if I’ve had a particularly anxious day, I’ll sit with a pen and paper and remind myself of all the good things in my life. If it’s work-related stress, I’ll write down that I’m grateful for an awesome boss and an awesome team. It helps me steer away from the negative. I also practice yoga every day when I get home from work, which helps me cultivate gratitude for my body and helps me be aware of and thankful for the present moment.”
| top strength: appreciation of beauty
by Sally Rooney
“I love to read, and I read a lot. But what people don’t understand is that it doesn’t just happen. It’s a dedicated pursuit, and I have a system. I have an annual goal for total count (this year, thirty) and a list of priority reads in two columns: a short list of longer project books that will take me a few months each—I’ll be trekking through Anna Karenina and Stephen King’s The Stand—and a long list of shorter novels, memoirs, and story collections that run back-to-back. I just crossed Normal People off of the latter; it’s a quick read.”
| top strength: fairness, equity,
director of product management
“When I got this as my top result, I wasn’t surprised: I think comes from growing up and being gay and wanting to be treated the same as anyone else. In my adult life and as a manager, it’s a big part of my ethos that everyone gets the same shot and no one gets an edge over someone else for arbitrary reasons. And it goes without saying that I believe everyone in an office should be treated exactly the same, from the CEO to the janitorial staff.”