You Have Many Different Kinds of Strength: Navigating the different types of strength
By Ryan Niemiec & Neal Mayerson
Human beings have a variety of strengths, coming in different degrees and types.
While scientific research will continue to offer distinctions and parse those qualities that are strongest in human beings, what follows are some conceptual perspectives.
If you’ve been reading my blogging on character strengths, you’ve become familiar with various examples of character strengths, as well as the complexity involved in understanding character. These positive characteristics of personality are different from other types of strength, such as our interests (what you enjoy doing) and resources (your external supports). Character strengths are viewed as “who you are,” in other words, they make up part of your core identity.
Here’s a breakdown of several of the types of strengths that you possess:
Major Types of Strengths
Character strengths are capacities or positive traits reflected in thinking, feeling, and behaving. They reflect what is best in you and can be viewed as part of your positive identity. They are personal traits that societies have universally considered to be good for the individual as well as the greater good (ethical and moral). The best examples of this type of strength are the 24 strengths in the widely known VIA Classification (e.g., fairness, hope, kindness, leadership), which are universally valued and can bring benefit to oneself and/or others. These character strengths are measureable and a scientifically valid tool, the VIA Survey, assesses these strengths.
Intelligences are strengths that are innate abilities or talents, which typically have a strong biological loading, may or may not be well-developed (e.g., visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, musical), and are independent of ethics and morals. The multiple intelligences articulated by Howard Gardner are the best example of this type of strength.
Interests are strengths that are areas or topics you are passionate about and driven to pursue, such as playing sports, engaging in particular hobbies, and working with arts or crafts. Interest inventories, often used in career assessment, are an established pathway for measuring areas of interest.
Resources are the one type of strength that is external. These are your external supports, such as social and spiritual connections, living in a safe neighborhood, and being part of a good family.
Additional Strength Distinctions
The following areas are sometimes confused with the preceding domains because there is some degree of overlap. However, it is worthwhile to offer distinctions of these terms as well.
Skills are strengths that are specific proficiencies developed through training (e.g., learning a particular trade; computing skills; researching skills).
Values are enduring beliefs, principles, or ideals that are of prime importance to you. Values reside in your thoughts and feelings, and may or may not be reflected in your behavior. E.g., your value for family, your value for hard work.
Learning styles are ideas or hypotheses about how people approach new material, e.g., you might be reflective in how you learn a particular subject, or you might be more interpersonal in your style because you want to receive new learnings through discussion rather than reading.
One Category Serves as the Driving Force
Character strengths cut across the strength categories. In many cases, character strengths underpin the other categories and draw the other strengths forward. They are often the driving force. For example, you might use hope to develop a new skill for work, curiosity to explore an area of interest, and gratitude and kindness to tap into your external resources.
Inevitably, character strengths help us make the most of these other strengths categories. If you point to a person who has developed their musical intelligence, for example a successful concert pianist, or a professional basketball player very high in bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, then you are pointing to someone who uses their character strengths of perseverance and self-regulation in order to maximize their abilities, and may be using other character strengths as well to motivate them in their pursuit of developing their abilities.
The category of interests is driven by our character strengths of love of learning and curiosity, among other strengths. Also, we might choose hobbies and other interest areas in order to express particular character strengths. I play one-on-one sports because I can express my perseverance and zest, team sports because I can bring forth teamwork and social intelligence, and online chess so I can exercise my judgment/critical thinking and perspective strengths together. And no doubt my passion for collecting Pez dispensers allows me to tap into my playfulness/humor strength.
Takeaway point: Intelligences are innate abilities we have to do certain things well. With learning these intelligences can be developed into particular skills. As we age over the decades, our intelligences and related skills may diminish. Similarly, our resources change or can be lost. Character strengths are valued by societies as traits that contribute to individual and social goodness. They also have a genetic component and can be developed with practice, and can crystallize and even grow stronger over time.
Gardner, H. (2004). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
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.
VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)
VIA Classification (the system of character strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test)