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Taking Positive Action in the Midst of Negativity

written by Sydney Kastner and Leora Rifkin 27 April 2020
Sydney Kastner, MAPP '19 is the Director of Well-Being and growth at 4.0 Schools and a consultant, facilitator, and coach. You can follow her on instagram @wellbeingwithsyd.

Leora Viega Rifkin, MAPP '16, is the creator of Mighty Questions, offering affordable coaching because she believes coaching should be accessible to everyone. Leora holds a Master's degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. LinkedIn profile. Leora's solo articles are here.

Authors’ Note: This article is intended to help people find ways to use strengths during a challenging time. We also want to acknowledge that although we are in the same storm, we are not in the same boat. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. We recognize that COVID-19 has caused immense strain, pain, and grief in ways that are different for each of us. This article may not feel as accessible or helpful for those among us who are struggling the most, but our hope is that anyone who reads it might be able to identify and recognize the strengths that they already have within them to support their well-being during this time.

Easy Ways to Use Character Strengths During these Difficult Times

These days, our daily routines are out of whack. In the midst of chaos, we can lose sight of what supports us to feel our best. According to research, being able to identify and use our character strengths can help us handle stress. It can also help us buffer against the new challenges that come as we adjust to a new normal.

What holds us up?

Although it can be difficult to identify our strengths during times of crisis, psychologists led by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson created a list of 24 character strengths that have been proven to be universal around the globe. We each have every character strength, but they exist in varying degrees in each of us. The character strengths that we have the most are our signature strengths. These are the qualities that make us feel the most like OURSELVES. Using them has been shown to be connected to higher well-being, positive emotions, and the meeting of basic psychological needs.

An easy way to find our unique combination of character strengths is to take the VIA Character Strengths survey. Exploring and applying character strengths can help us improve relationships, buffer against negative feelings, manage problems, and enhance our well-being during this challenging time.

We offer some simple suggestions for activating different character strengths while dealing with the international pandemic. People often use multiple character strengths at the same time. So, we indicate opportunities for likely BOGOs (think “buy one get one”) of character strengths application. For example, trying something new may be an intentional application of curiosity, but it can also activate Love of Learning at the same time.

Can you identify specific activities that use a combination of your strengths? How are you using character strengths to support your well-being during this time? Share your ideas in the comments.

Virtue Character Strength Ideas to Activate Your Character Strengths
Strengths that help you gather and use knowledge
Creativity Host a virtual game night using the Houseparty app.
Join an Instagram live by DJ D-Nice and party at #ClubQuarantine.
Throw a themed Zoom call.
Curiosity Pick up a book you find interesting.
Use the StoryCorps app to interview someone in your house or even virtually.
Try something new.
BOGO: Love of Learning
Judgement/Critical Thinking Think about a problem your community might be facing because of the pandemic. How can you help? For example, buy something from a local business, donate to a food bank, or walk around and “visit” your neighbors from a safe distance.
BOGO: Kindness, Teamwork
Love of Learning Think of a new skill or body of knowledge you want to learn, and take the first step. Download an article about it or watch a Youtube video.
BOGO: Curiosity
Perspective Think of all of the people who are helpers. Make a sign to hang on your door thanking them.
BOGO: Gratitude
Strengths that help you exercise your will and face adversity
Bravery Reflect on a way you have been strong in the face of a challenge recently. Try to be as specific as possible.
Next time you are on a video chat ask someone to share a moment they used their strength of bravery to persevere.
BOGO: Perseverance
Perseverance Create a plan for how you will finish a task or group of tasks today, even if there are obstacles in your way. This could be cleaning part of your house, ensuring your children finish their school work, making sure your animals are cared for. It does not have to be a huge task.
Honesty Write a note to someone you love and tell them how you feel.
BOGO: Gratitude, Kindness.
Zest* Move your body.
Check out a free yoga, dance, or workout class on YouTube.
Strengths that help you in one-on-one relationships
Love Reach out to a person you love and schedule a video chat to enjoy strengthening your bond.
Kindness Write a thank you note to someone on the front lines.
Volunteer to virtually connect with an elderly person experiencing isolation (Adopt a Grandparent).
If it is safe for you, volunteer to donate blood at the Red Cross.
BOGO: Kindness, Gratitude
Social Intelligence Reflect on an interaction you had recently. Was there someone who seemed to need more support? Check in.
BOGO: Kindness, Love
Strengths that help you in community or group-based situations
Teamwork Find a way to enhance communication during this time of physical distance.
Create a group text thread or slack channel to connect a work team, family, friends, or any group.
Assign roles around daily chores so that every person in your house knows their role and can be a great teammate.
BOGO: Kindness, Social Intelligence
Fairness Read an article or listen to a podcast about the inequities of COVID-19 experiences in different groups of people.
What steps could you take after you get that knowledge?
BOGO: Curiosity, Love of Learning
Leadership Reach out to someone (virtually) who might need a message of hope or support. Provide them with ideas to help them get through.
BOGO: Perspective, Humility
Strengths that help you manage habits and protect against excess
Forgiveness Write yourself a permission slip. “I give myself permission not to feel guilty for watching TV or letting my kids indulge in screen time.”
What can you give yourself permission to do (or not do!) right now?
BOGO: Love, Perspective
Humility Listen to someone else share their fears or concerns and instead of giving advice offer support.
BOGO: Kindness, Love
Prudence When you stay home, follow CDC guidelines, and only leave the house for essential items with your mask on, you are already exercising your strength of prudence.
Think of how you might use your prudence strength to kindly encourage a friend or family member to make the most cautious decision given the circumstances we’re in.
BOGO: Perspective
Self-Regulation Create a new normal by scheduling your top priorities and creating a plan to execute them by a specific time. For example, if you know working out makes you feel good then schedule it for 8am. Carve out time in your day to follow through on what you need to support your well-being right now.
Strengths that help you connect to the larger universe and provide meaning
Gratitude** Write down what you are grateful for and share it with someone you love.
BOGO: Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Hope* Reflect on what you want life to be like when shelter-in-place is over. What have you started doing or stopped doing that you want to continue even when you are free to go out?
Humor Watch a comedy special or listen to a funny podcast. Send around a meme or video that made you laugh!
Spirituality Tune into a live religious service.
If you find meaning and comfort outside of a religious institution, practice yoga, meditate, or journal.
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence Take a walk in nature or step outside to view the sunset.
Watch a nature documentary visiting a new place in the world.
Share what you appreciated with a loved one.
BOGO: Creativity: find a new route or view tomorrow.

If you are interested in learning more about how to use Character Strengths to support your well-being check out the reference list below, including articles about coping with Coronavirus by Dr. Ryan Niemiec and Jane S. Anderson.

*Zest & hope are found repeatedly to be the most strongly linked with happiness
**Gratitude is linked with having more positive emotions, optimism, life satisfaction, vitality, religion, spirituality, and less depression.



Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character Strengths Interventions. Hogrefe Publishers.

Niemiec, R. M. (2020). Coping with Coronavirus: A strengths perspective. VIA Institute on Character.

Anderson, J. S. Strengths-based living blog. Includes articles about strengths-building practices.

Anderson, J. S. (2018). 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best. Strength Based Living LCC.

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

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

Rashid, T. (no date). Flourish: Build Your Strengths.

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Tea by the water Photo by Loverna Journey on Unsplash
Flower and Gates Photo by Huseyin OZBEKAR on Unsplash

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Old man Walt 28 April 2020 - 4:07 pm

Sydney, thank you for bringing this to my attention! I was literally wondering why some people seem to have better coping skills with everything going on, While others did not. This article provided great insight into the idea of strengths playing a role us remaining positive

Katie Positeevitee 15 June 2020 - 5:53 pm

Hi Sydney and Leora. Great post. Thanks for the insights. Really need it to stay positive and spread positivity during this time. Any books recommendation regarding character strength?


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