Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the Christian tradition. No doubt you have heard “I’m giving up (blank) for Lent.” (Insert favorite food, drink, activity, or other indulgent vice in the blank.) The focus of this season seems to be on self-sacrifice and self-control. These can be wonderful virtues to inculcate in our lives (see Maymin article 2-1-07), but, discipline is not easy or appealing for most people. In the Values In Action (VIA) classification, there are 24 strengths (Peterson, 2004). The strength of self-control is not the most prevalent strength when looking at the aggregate strengths of 500,000 who have taken the VIA survey. In fact, overall, it ranks 24th in the list of strengths. (You can take the VIA at here).
A college friend told me her practice for Lent was to give up something in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and to add something to her life. She would take up a new habit! This positive spin was appealing enough to get me to try and develop a new habit each year as Spring emerged. As I was thinking about what to sacrifice and what to add to my life this year, I started thinking more about habits.
According to the Oxford-English Dictionary, the most common definition of “habit” is A settled disposition or tendency to act in a certain way, esp. one acquired by frequent repetition of the same act until it becomes almost or quite involuntary; a settled practice, custom, usage; a customary way or manner of acting. (The most usual current sense. Properly said of living beings; in mod. use occasionally of inanimate things.)But a little more research unveils that “habit” not only refers to actions, it also refers to appearance. For example, a religious habit can refer to the clothing a nun wears. A riding habit refers to riding clothes worn for a specific occasion. And, my favorite, the term used to describe the appearance or form of a crystal is “habit.”
Establishing a new habit can also be thought of as changing or taking on a new appearance. I can use the next 40 days to enhance one or more of my character strengths (from the VIA), and so enhance my appearance. Research has shown that using your signature strengths in a new way increases happiness.
Kindness is one of my signature strengths. Wouldn’t kindness be a wonderful attribute to adorn each day?
Love of learning has always been #1 or #2 on my list of strengths. I would love to learn a new language and increase my communication skills.
Spirituality has also been at the very top of my list. My connection with God – connecting with something larger than myself – brings awe and wonder and peace and hope. I know I’m attracted to these attributes in others and I would love to wear them on a more consistent basis.
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the season where one can go from ashes to beauty. What will you be wearing this Spring?
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Polly, S. & Britton, K. H. (2015). Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life (Positive Psychology News). Positive Psychology News. (Added later)
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.