Start using character strengths with your clients today!

What are Character Strengths?

Positive psychology focuses on what is best about human beings to help them lead fulfilling, meaningful, and successful lives. In the early 2000s, a group of 55 scientists headed by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson spent three years researching what helps people thrive. The result was the classification of six virtues that could be found across different philosophical and religious traditions, which then, through further exploration, lead to the identification of 24 character strengths – The VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues.

The VIA Institute on Character (a nonprofit organization founded by Neal Mayerson and Martin Seligman) then developed a psychometrically validated personality test, the VIA Survey, which has been freely available online since 2001 and translated into 41 languages. To date, nearly 8 million people having now taken the Survey and there are nearly two decades of research demonstrating the power of character strengths.

Clients can take the test here.

Research shows that if clients know what their individual character strengths are and they apply them, they can make lasting changes. Each week a new study on character strengths is being published:

  • Targeting signature strengths with clients can help them have long-term increases in happiness and reductions in depressive symptoms.¹
  • Strengths-based parenting can have a significant positive effect on academic achievement of teens.²
  • Mindfulness-based strengths practice (MBSP) boosts well-being, job satisfaction and reduces stress and is more effective then mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in boosting task performance.³
  • Character strength interventions with older adults reduces depression and increase happiness, gratitude and life satisfaction.⁴
  • And much more…

VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues

Virtue of Wisdom

Creativity: Original, adaptive, ingenuity, seeing and doing things in different ways
Curiosity: Interest, novelty-seeking, exploration, openness to experience
Judgment: Critical thinking, thinking through all sides, not jumping to conclusions
Love of Learning: Mastering new skills & topics, systematically adding to knowledge
Perspective: Wisdom, providing wise counsel, taking the big picture view

Virtue of Courage

Bravery: Valor, not shrinking from threat or challenge, facing fears, speaking up for what’s right
Perseverance: Persistence, industry, finishing what one starts, overcoming obstacles
Honesty: Authenticity, being true to oneself, sincerity without pretense, integrity
Zest: Vitality, enthusiasm for life, vigor, energy, not doing things half-heartedly

Virtue of Humanity

Love: Both loving and being loved, valuing close relations with others, genuine warmth
Kindness: Generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruism, doing for others
Social Intelligence: Emotional intelligence, aware of the motives/feelings of self/others,
knowing what makes other people tick

Virtue of Justice

Teamwork: Citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty, contributing to a group effort
Fairness: Adhering to principles of justice, not letting feelings bias decisions, equal opportunity for all
Leadership: Organizing group activities to get things done, positively influencing others

Virtue of Temperance

Forgiveness: Mercy, accepting others’ shortcomings, giving people a second chance,
letting go of hurt when wronged.
Humility: Modesty, letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
Prudence: Careful about one’s choices, cautious, not taking undue risks
Self-Regulation: Self-control, disciplined, managing impulses, emotions, and vices

Virtue of Transcendence

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: Awe and wonder for beauty, admiration for skill/excellence, elevation for moral beauty
Gratitude: Thankful for the good, expressing thanks, feeling blessed
Hope: Optimism, positive future-mindedness, expecting the best & working to achieve it
Humor: Playfulness, bringing smiles to others, lighthearted – seeing the lighter side
Spirituality: Connecting with the sacred, purpose, meaning, faith, religiousness

© Copyright 2004–2020, VIA Institute on Character. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Useful resources

Character Strengths Interventions - The book

The definitive, practical handbook on positive psychology and character strengths for practitioners working in coaching, psychology, education, and business – start using strengths today!

Character Strengths Intervention Cards

Help clients to learn and use their positive character strengths to lead more fulfilling and happier lives with this full-color 50-card set using the 24 character strengths and 6 virtues of VIA.

What people say about the CSI book

Shawn Achor, MA, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage

Ryan Niemiec takes one of the most important scientific tools in modern psychology for improving our well-being and makes that research come to life in a practical way for practitioners, parents, and coaches.

Lea Waters, PhD, President of the International Positive Psychology Association

Thought-provoking and hope-promoting, this is a must-have book for anyone doing work with character strengths!

Martin E. P. Seligman, The founder of positive psychology

The GO-TO book for building character

Ryan M. Niemiec about the CSI cards

If you are looking for character strengths cards, then these are the ones! They are a colorful tool for integrating into coaching and therapy sessions and homework. The cards are insightful, user-friendly, and ready-for-impact – a tangible resource to help clients build character strengths fluency, catalyze exploration, and set clients on a trajectory of strengths application for building well-being, enhancing relationships, and managing stress.


  1. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.
  2. Waters, L. E., Loton, D., & Jach, H. K. (2019). Does strength based parenting predict academic achievement? The mediating effects of perseverance and engagement. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20, 1121-1140.
  3. Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019a). Fusing character strengths and mindfulness interventions: Benefits for job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 150-162.
  4. Ho, H. C., Y., Yeung, D. Y., & Kwok, S. Y. C. L. (2014). Development and evaluaton of the positive psychology intervention for older adults. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(3), 187-197.

The authors

Ryan M. Niemiec, PsyD

Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, a nonprofit organization in Cincinnati, Ohio that is viewed as the global leader in advancing the science and practice of character strengths. Ryan is author of several books, including Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing, and coauthor of Positive Psychology at the Movies; and Movies and Mental Illness. Ryan is an award-winning psychologist, certified coach, international workshop leader, IPPA Fellow 2017, and is adjunct professor at Xavier University, University of Pennsylvania, and a visiting lecturer at several other institutions.

Matthijs Steeneveld, MSc

Positive organizational psychologist. He trains and consults organizations on strengths use, positive organizational change, and psychological capital. He is co-founder of the Dutch Bureau for Positive Psychology, where he trains professionals to work with positive psychology. He is the author of several books on psychological capital, self-compassion, and appreciative inquiry

Anouk van den Berg

Psychologist in institutional mental health care, working with diverse client groups and approaches. She helps people find their strengths to be able to deal with psychological challenges. She works with cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, EMDR, and strengths, performing both therapy and psychodiagnostic research.