“The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will… an education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” ~ William James
Recently, Bridget Grenville-Cleave has graced us with two short articles about character strengths in the workplace. In Strengths Have Many Faces, she described three very different ways that Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence shows up in the work people choose to do. In Other Lenses on Strengths, she described a workshop for helping people become stronger at spotting strengths in action.If this whetted your appetite for information about pragmatic ways to use your knowledge of strengths to make a positive difference in the world, then you are ripe for Ryan Niemiec’s book, Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing.
Alternatively if you believe in the point made by some of our readers that mindfulness is underused in the field of positive psychology, you will enjoy the way this book brings the two concepts together. It explores ways that character strengths can be used in mindfulness practices, and it demonstrates ways that mindfulness helps us enhance and appreciate character strengths, both in ourselves and the people around us.
About the Author
Ryan Niemiec is just the right person to write about the coming together of these two topics. In the foreword to the book, James Pawelski calls him, “one of the foremost practitioners of well-being research in the world today.” On the one hand, he is the Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character Strengths, where he has been involved in training people around the world to use the concepts of character strengths for their own well-being and the well-being of others. He has also had a formal practice of mindfulness since the 1990’s, conducting mindfulness groups, and building a therapy practice based on the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression.When I think about Ryan, I remember his annual contribution to our positive psychology awards for movies. My husband I are using his other recent book, Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being, for ideas of films to view. He suggests that people view movies mindfully, with a keen eye for the vast human range of ways for character strengths to show up. I also think about his compassion, his practicality, and his humility. Ryan doesn’t preach things that he hasn’t himself practiced.
Structure of the Book
The first half of the book is educational and explanatory, presenting ideas along with the research that supports them. Chapters 1 and 2 are primers on mindfulness and character strengths. Thus there is no assumption that readers know the topics before they pick up the book. Chapter 2 also describes the VIA Aware-Explore-Apply approach for a character strengths practice, an approach used in Ryan’s VIA trainings. Chapter 3 shows how the two topics can be integrated, each enhancing the other. Chapter 4 is called Strong Mindfulness, describing how to bring strengths to mindfulness. Chapter 5 is called Mindful Strengths, describing how to to bring mindfulness to strengths. Finally, chapter 6 describes Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), a group process for formal training in character strengths and mindfulness. All 6 chapters contain practice tips concerning ways to use the information effectively.
The second half of the book contains detailed instructions for conducting an 8-session Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) workshop series. This approach has been piloted in Portugal, France, Hong Kong, Denmark, and Australia. Chapters 7 through 14 each describe one session, including the structure, opening meditation, exercises, teaching points, group discussions, suggested homework, and closing meditation.
“The practice of mindfulness is strengths and the practice of strengths is mindfulness. They cannot be separated. To practice mindful breathing or walking is to exercise self-regulation. To express a curious and kindly openness to the present moment experience is to practice mindfulness. To deploy strengths in a mindful way is to strengthen mindfulness, and a strong mindfulness is a recipe for more balanced and mindful strengths use.” ~ Ryan Niemiec, p. 104
Each chapter comes with worksheets that the purchaser of the book is free to copy for personal or professional use. The chapters include suggestions for facilitators, including, I was charmed to see, Practice Traps, that is, things to watch out for as you facilitate. The Practice Trap in chapter 8 advises facilitators to watch out to make sure they don’t work harder than the group. “It is more likely that a question back to the individual, silence/pauses to sit with a key point, and exercises designed to keep individuals focused on the work themselves, will elicit change than the practitioner imparting one more interesting factoid.”
Attached to the back cover of the book is a disk containing 1 hour and 20 minutes of meditations and exercises. Ryan introduces it this way:
… designed to support you on your journey as you practice mindfulness and as you work with those qualities that are best in you, your character strengths.
Who might benefit from this book?Certainly practitioners preparing for strengths-based events will find it an invaluable collection of materials, practical advice, and specific activities to help a group of people become more mindful in general, more mindful of their own strengths and those of the people around them, and more accomplished in the application of their strengths in everyday life.
Individuals with no urge to teach will also find many ideas, activities, and meditations in this book that they can use to guide a personal practice. Certainly they will miss out on the group dynamics that are important for the MBSP, but they may be able to form their own study circles or even conduct the exercises on their own.
I mentioned Ryan’s humility and compassion earlier. I’d like to close with a shout-out to his generosity. The materials in this book can be reproduced and reused without asking for permission. That’s 30 different worksheets and information handouts ready for you to use. The recorded meditations are also ready for reuse. The author’s intention is surely to add to the tonnage of well-being in the world by giving us all a big head start based on his own experience and mindful reflection.
Niemiec, R. (2013). Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Publishing.
Sega, Z., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2012). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Second Edition. The Guilford Press.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Publishing.