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Character Strengths Matter (Book Review)

written by David J. Pollay 21 August 2015

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.



What do seventeen of the top Positive Psychology leaders in the world have in common? They all enthusiastically endorse Character Strengths Matter. It’s that good, and it’s that important. Now I want to add my own endorsement.

I love this book. It answers with confidence, hope, and verve the Positive Psychology question: What’s right with people, and how do we amplify it? At its core this book is about the amplification of human strength, not the subtraction of human weakness.

Who Contributed?

Character Strengths Matter is edited by two leading practitioners in the field of Positive Psychology. Shannon Polly and Kathryn Britton have themselves put into practice the power of coaching clients to lead with their strengths and to work around their lesser strengths by partnering with others.

What distinguishes this book is that Shannon and Kathryn gathered more than two dozen of the top practitioners of Positive Psychology and asked them to contribute their expertise in bringing to life each one of the 24 Values in Action (VIA) character strengths.

The VIA character strengths were uncovered and developed through the research of nearly 40 psychologists led by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Their work was generously supported and funded by Neal Mayerson through the Mayerson Family Foundation and the VIA Institute on Character which Neal created. Neal and Ryan Niemiec, a leader in bringing mindfulness and character strengths together in everyday life, both contributed to the book.

How Structured?

I like the way this book is laid out. In Part One. each of the 24 VIA strengths is written about by one of the key practice leaders in our field. Every strength chapter begins with its definition followed by a story, interview, or article on how the strength shows up powerfully in personal and professional settings. It then includes a suggested list of “Five Actions to Build” the strength by contributing writer, Tayyab Rashid. These are samples from Tayyab’s full list of actions for building character strengths. This book has become my new favorite resource for helping people to understand and develop their strengths, and equally important, to understand and appreciate the signature strengths of friends, family, co-workers, and others.

What makes Character Strengths Matter unique is a component I have rarely seen. We are invited to act out loud each strength at the end of the chapter in a full mind, body, and spirit reading of a thoughtfully selected poem, speech, or excerpt from a play or a book. This component alone is worth the price of admission.

There is another delightful addition to this book: Kevin Gillespie memorably illustrates each strength expressed through a meaningful action.

Part Two of the book is particularly helpful because it identifies ways of discovering, nurturing, and building on strengths in a number of important settings from business to youth development. It also includes important guidance on how to make the most of the VIA assessment tool.

Exploring and Building Strengths

I personally enjoyed exploring my own top five strengths, which are gratitude, love and be loved, curiosity, hope, and social intelligence. I learned from each chapter new ways to develop and amplify my own signature strengths at work and at home. I also went one step further in reading this book. I picked out a strength I wanted to develop further, the strength of humor. I was drawn to that strength by a story Christopher Peterson once told me.

When he became a professor, Chris decided that he wanted to be funnier. He was convinced that he would better engage his students if he brought some appropriately placed levity to his classes. So Chris told me how he went to work on developing his strength of humor. Chris went to the library and checked out all the joke books he could find, and he read them all. Over time, he said his humor building expedition helped him expand his strength of humor.

What was the result of Chris’s focused strength building? He was widely known as a brilliant researcher and teacher, and he was also known for keeping his students engaged, in part because of his celebrated sense of humor. In fact, he was so beloved as a teacher that he was awarded the most prestigious teaching award at the University of Michigan, the Golden Apple Award. If you ask anyone that knew Chris well, they will tell you that he was known for his strength of superbly well-timed humor. So, in his spirit, I spent extra time exploring the strength of humor in this book. As an Executive Coach who specializes in relationships in business, as a father of two young daughters, and as Dawn’s husband of 16 years, I know that a good dose of humor in daily life is a good thing.

Now beyond all the reasons I’ve stated to pick up this book, there is one more reason I want to highlight. This book is written in memory and celebration of Chris, and all proceeds go to the Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. It has been some time since I’ve had so many reasons for wanting to have a book in my hands and yours.

One of my favorite sayings that my grandmother used to tell me was, “Don’t hide your light in a bushel basket.” She encouraged me to share my gifts with the world. On the occasion of the publication of Character Strengths Matter, and in the spirit of my grandmother and Christopher Peterson, “Don’t hide your strengths in a bushel basket.”

Share your strengths with the world. Call out the strengths you see in others. Buy this book. Read it. Live it. You’ll be happy you did.




Polly, S. & Britton, K. H. (Eds.) (2015). Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life (Positive Psychology News). Positive Psychology News.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Niemiec, R. (2013). Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Hogrefe.

Rashid, T. (no date). A guide to building your strengths. Flourish Web site at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.

Book cover designed by Haresh R. Makwana.
Illustrations by Kevin Gillespie, illustrator of all three Positive Psychology News books.

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Judy Krings 21 August 2015 - 6:27 pm

Thank God in Heaven you listened to your grandmother, David. Your light shines brilliantly upon this book, as well as Shannon and Kathryn, our beloved Chris Peterson, and all the positive psychology mover and shaker contributors. Your review is stellar, as is this remarkable book. Kudos to you for your thoroughly inspiring review. This book explodes with all that is good and right about the world. Better yet, everyone involved is living positive psychology and paying it forward to our welcoming, grateful universe. How grand!

David J. Pollay 23 August 2015 - 1:04 pm

Hi Judy!

Great to hear from you. Thank you for everything you wrote. You are the embodiment of positive psychology. You’re an example for us all to follow.

All the best,

Lola 21 August 2015 - 8:03 pm

After reading your review I immediately clicked over to amazon and expedited my copy of this book. I am a new student to Positive psychology and plan on building my practice around it along with strengths and values. As a, shall we say “more mature” student and years of searching for an avenue to shine my light, I have finally found it in my more recent studies as mentioned above. Thank you for an excellent review of what is most likely going to be one of my most cherished books.
Lola King

David J. Pollay 23 August 2015 - 1:02 pm

Hi, Lola!

Thanks for your lovely post. I’m so glad the review spoke to you. Congrats on the practice you’re building!

All the best,

Angus Skinner 22 August 2015 - 4:48 am

Well said David! Your clarion call – and your grandmother’s call – to share our strengths is well made. Chris would have loved it – positive psychology he defined as ‘other people matter’.

The image of him pouring over (and tempted no doubt to classify) so many jokes and humour is a loving one. He was one of the finest people any of us ever met. He helped me to strive to be a better person.

I have been reading bits of this book to a ten-year old, who loves it. It is a great book to dip into at moments you want to touch base with strengths you know you have but cannot quite engage. It can act as a gear shirt.

Thanks Dave.

David J. Pollay 23 August 2015 - 12:59 pm

Thanks, Angus! We sure had a wonderful experience with Chris. It’s so cool that you’re sharing the book with a ten year old. Thanks for the note.
All the best,

Judy Krings 24 August 2015 - 5:27 pm

Thanks ever so much for your lovely message, David. I am humbled. Thanks for making my day so bright!


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