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In the Pursuit of Happiness, Strength in Character is Key


New research shows that practising strong, morally positive behaviour leads to an increase in personal satisfaction and an overall better sense of well-being.

The pursuit of happiness has been an elusive endeavour that people from all walks of life have written about for centuries. But as part of a new trend in positive psychology studies, a new study shows that happiness is something that can be worked towards—and a strong character is the key.

Character strengths—these are traits that can be associated with positive moral behaviour—have been linked to overall life satisfaction in numerous studies in the past. What the new study from Zurich University shows is that these character strengths have a causal effect on happiness, and that practising them can lead to a better sense of personal well-being.

Traits with the best results
The study divided 178 adults into three groups: one group practised the character strengths of curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humour, and enthusiasm for 10 weeks; the second group trained in the strengths of appreciation of beauty, creativity, kindness, love of learning, and foresight; the third was a control group and did not train in any character traits.

The exercises for each of the training groups consisted of tasks that could be incorporated within a daily routine. Subjects practising gratitude would write a thank-you letter to an important person in the subject’s life. Others training in the appreciation of beauty paid attention to moments and situation that inspired admiration for something beautiful.

For the group that trained in curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humour, and enthusiasm, there was a particularly significant increase in life satisfaction compared to the control group. However, both groups that practised strong character traits benefitted from their training compared to before they began their exercises. The researchers report that these participants were more cheerful and were in a good mood more often.

Also, those who learned to control their actions and their feelings more effectively through training benefitted the most.

Positive psychology
The study fits into a discipline called positive psychology. In recent years, the researchers in this field have focused their efforts on learning more about what makes our lives worth living and what constitutes our greatest satisfactions. These topics, as well as their relationship to positive character traits, have previously been long-neglected in the field of psychology.  

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