We have all heard of strengths, but what are meta-strengths and how do they fit?

We have all heard of strengths, but what are meta-strengths and how do they fit?

Since WW2, Psychology has had at its core, a preoccupation with what is dysfunctional, is unwell and which needs fixing. It would appear that the “New Normal” is an obsession with illness and what is wrong. www.spiked-online.com/2016/10/03/being-mentally-ill-the-new-normal/

Since 1989 Dr Martin Seligman, who leads Positive Psychology at Pennsylvania State University, has defined and built a contemporary psychology based upon “what makes life living”. He has a substantial track record in publications, such as Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, Character Strengths and Virtues, and Flourishing, as well as an impressive record  in teaching, consulting work and public appearances. He developing PERMA: Positive Emotions, Relationships, Engagement Meaning and Achievement. (Seligman. 1975, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2011). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH0sssQzQGg&t=83s

Today, there is a substantial body of scientific evidence captured under the banner of Positive Psychology, which demonstrates a viable alternative, that the development of Values and Strengths, aligned with Achievements, works as a therapy in overcoming disorders and to inspiring flourishing.

In Positive Psychology there is more to just Values, Strengths, Achievements. One’s Relationships are probably the key component for a long and healthy life. (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/)

Much of Positive Psychology thinking is based Love, Gratitude, Kindness and a sense of Altruism. (Boniwell, 2012). The emergence of Relationships and Altruism as important in genetic selection. (Lieberman, 2013) .

In Positive Psychology, Strengths are complemented by an emphasis upon Positive Emotions, Engagement and Meaning. All of these elements combine to provide a powerful “toolbox” which can propel individuals and communities into a happier, more fulfilled and flourishing life and in so doing, make redundant, those archaic systems of reward and punishment which have been the regulators of human behaviour. (Schermer, 2016).

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle believed there was unique spirit within, which guides us towards what it right for us and this is echoed through history and within many cultures. Jung (1930) coined “Individuation” to describe an entitlement to discover who we are and build a life appropriate to ourselves.

What is enabling this? Quite simply, it is because the world has, at least for the human race, been completely transformed into a safer and more abundant place to be, physically, intellectually and morally. “The last 500 years have witnessed a breathtaking series of revolutions… The economy has grown exponentially… The social order has been completely transformed, as has politics, daily life and human psychology”. (Harari, 2011).

A swathe of scientists and intellectuals concur, such as Steven Pinker, in his breathtakingly researched and authoritative book The Better Angels of Our Nature (2016), others, Jeffrey D. Sachs in The 2019 Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report, and Michael Shermer, who links wellbeing to greater moral behaviour, in A Moral Arc (2016).

We ride atop an exponential tidal-wave of improvements in wellbeing.

Positive Psychology defines Strengths as the cornerstone of personal development. Strengths are the mechanisms by which personal Values can be articulated, worked upon and given form. Some Strengths need nurturing, in order to reach their full potential. Others occur spontaneously without being consciously developed or invoked. Some, it seems, need to be “drilled” into us.

Several organisations provide Strengths finding tools:

Not everyone agrees upon a classification of Strengths, and space does not permit in-depth consideration. However, Strengths have been assigned to different categories. VIA, being one provider, calls these categories Virtues. The VIA system has six categories of Virtues, being Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence. Each Virtue has a set of Strengths associated with it. According to the VIA system, some of the many examples of individual Strengths are: Creativity, Curiosity, Open-mindedness, Love of Learning and Perspective. These all fall into the Virtue category of Wisdom. Other examples are: Love, Loyalty and Social Intelligence, falling within the Virtue category of Humanity. We find that some Strengths occur in more than one Virtue.

A person may find their individual Strengths scattered across all six sets of VIA Virtues, although there are likely to be more Strengths in some categories than in others. Strengths vary in maturity and efficacy. From time to time, some strengths will be in the ascendancy, others in decline. (Dr Willi Baumeister of Zurich University amoungst many others has made his specialism, the study of Strengths).

Character Strengths comes in different “strengths”. A Strength can be is latent, partially developed or at full maturity. It might be active, or under-used. Some Strengths have been developed under training, or duress. An individual may not be predisposed to them and thus they sit awkwardly, being used expediently or from habit.

There are two major Influencers which address the individual’s portfolio of Strengths.

The first Influencer, is an understanding that Strengths are compiled from Experiences, Attributes, Capabilities, thus:

  • At the Core, are traits and experiences that have been formed in a person’s past.
  • Capability, being the abilities and technical skills that a person has, now.
  • Capacity, the strengths, appetite and values which determine what a person can do in the future.

Capacity provides the key to an individual’s potential for fulfilment. (TSPP Module PGDPOPL 1 2019. Coursework).

There is a second Influencer: How people view Time. Take a brief look at Zimbardo’s Time Perspective Inventory. http://www.thetimeparadox.com/zimbardo-time-perspective-inventory/

This was first published in 1999. It asks people to examine how views of the Past, the Future and the Present. Each of these occur in two different variants. According to the individual’s disposition, aspects of the Past and Future can be viewed as either Positive, (I had good experiences and have fond memories); or Negative, (I am sad, have uncomfortable recollections and I am often self-reproaching). Zimbardo describes the Present differently. It can be viewed in either a Fatalistic way, (it is all beyond my control), or in terms of hedonistic Pleasure, (I will seek as much self-indulgence and immediate gratification as possible).

These two Influencers, firstly the maturity and  level to which Strengths are developed and secondly, how people view their past, present and future, play a substantial part in the efficacy of the Strengths themselves.

This is not the whole picture, however. For a macro-view and a clearer understanding of how people work, there are advantages in looking systematically at how, within an individual, Strengths occur as groupings which are not just the groupings of Virtues. This requires the pulling together of different Strengths from each of the Virtue categories listed and examining the resulting cluster, this making the individual unique.

This method of grouping generates what are known as Meta-strengths. (TSPP Module PGDPOPL 1 2019. Coursework).

Meta-strengths are more conceptual. There is an emphasis on the metaphysical, upon meaning and reality. Meta-strengths can be grouped as:

  • A Higher Place, (Esoterics), the repository of excellence and beauty. Aesthetics and precision.
  • The Life Force, (Action) that which is the genesis of vitality, motivation and action (Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, described this as ‘Elan Vital’ in his 1907 book, Creative Evolution. Other cultures call it Prana, or Qi).
  • Condition, (Existence), the physical, intellectual and emotional values of the individual.
  • Through People, (Relationships) social connection, interaction and equanimity.
  • In Execution, (Outputs), the tangible and intangible manifestations of the above, both as an individual and in consort with others.

 

Figure 1, below, attempts to provide a fuller picture of Strengths, the Influencers and Meta-strengths.

Fig 1 Strengths, Influencers and Meta-Strengths:

Now, dear reader, if you re-examine yourself using the VIA Strengths system (or any other system), do your own Meta-strengths groupings, you will find some interesting results. Go ahead. List your Strengths within their Virtues categories. Please add your Traits, Capacities and Capabilities. Study your Time Perspective Inventory.  Then analyse your collection of personal data and arrive at you Meta-strengths.

All people have Values, or Virtues, which often, (but not inevitably), shape their Strengths. What are your Values, Strengths and Capacities? How are they disposed towards the Past and the Future, and how do they live in the Present?

Put simply, you will be designing around existing and future Strengths which are desirable to meet the objectives of a full and happy life – one which is altruistic and adds to the sum of Humankind.

And your answer is..?

 

References:

Baumeister, W. (2019).  A study of strengths. Zurich University speaker at IPPA Melbourne.

Bergson, H. (1907). ‘Elan Vital’. L’Évolution Créatrice. (Creative Evolution).

Boniwell, I. (2012). Much of Positive Psychology thinking is based on Love, Gratitude, Kindness and a sense of Altruism. Positive Psychology in a Nutshell.

Coursework TSSP 2 Module PGDPOPL 1. Experiences, Attributes, Capabilities. Meta-strengths. (2019).

Strengths finding tools: www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/‎

Harari, Y. (2011). The last 500 years have witnessed a breathtaking series of revolutions… The economy has grown exponentially… The social order has been completely transformed, as has politics, daily life and human psychology. Sapiens.

Harvard Gazette. (2017). One’s Relationships are probably the key component for a long and healthy life. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/

Jung, C. (1930). Individuation. The Stages of Life.

Pinker, S. (2016). The world has, at least for the human race, been completely transformed into a safer and more abundant place to be, physically, intellectually and morally. The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Positran/Boniwell (2019).  Strengths finding tools. https://www.acukltd.com/store/positran-strengths-cards-dr-ilona-boniwell)

Sachs, J. (2019). The world has, at least for the human race, been completely transformed into a safer and more abundant place to be, physically, intellectually and morally. The 2019 Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report.

Seligman. PERMA. (1975, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2011). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH0sssQzQGg&t=83s

Schermer, M. (2016). The world has, at least for the human race, been completely transformed into a safer and more abundant place to be, physically, intellectually and morally. A Moral Arc.

The “New Normal”. (2016). www.spiked-online.com/2016/10/03/being-mentally-ill-the-new-normal/

Zimbardo’s Time Perspective. (2008).  http://www.thetimeparadox.com/zimbardo-time-perspective-inventory/

VIA Character Strengths. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths

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