Character Strengths and Virtues

 Developing a Strength, Acquire a Virtue!

Six Virtues and Twenty Four Strengths

Two of positive psychology's leading figures, Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, compiled a book with the title "Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification" within which they categorized all the strengths that are valued across the planet. In the process they studied positive character traits across research, history and in different fields and cultures and then distilled them into 24 distinct character strengths, all of which are universally valued. The resulting handbook is like a manual of mental wellness.

Each strength belongs to one of six groups or virtues, namely wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. The six groups of virtues are listed in the mind map below and are defined in the sections immediately thereafter.

Six Virtues

Virtue 1: Wisdom and Knowledge

Wisdom and knowledge consists of cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge. The following mind map lists the five strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.

Cognitive Strengths

Cognitive Strengths Defined

Creativity (originality, ingenuity): Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.

Curiosity (interest, novel-seeking, openess to experience): Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.

Judgement and Open-mindedness (critical thinking): Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one's mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.

Love of Learning: Mastering new skills, topics and bodies of knowledge, whether on one's own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity, but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows.

Perspective (wisdom): Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself/others.

Virtue 2: Courage

Courage consists of emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.  The following mind map lists the four strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.

Emotional Strengths

Emotional Strengths Defined

Bravery (valour): Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what's right even if there's opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery, but is not limited to it.

Perseverance (persistence, industriousness): Finishing what one starts; persevering in a course of action in spite of obstacles; "getting it out the door"; taking pleasure in completing tasks.

Honesty (authenticity, integrity): Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting sincerely; taking responsibility for one's feelings and actions.

Zest (vitality, enthusiasm, vigour, energy): Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things half-heartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.

Virtue 3: Humanity

Humanity includes interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others. The following mind map lists the three strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.   

Interpersonal Strengths

Interpersonal Strengths Defined

Love (capacity to love and be loved): Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.

Kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"): Doing favours and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.

Social Intelligence (emotional intelligence,personal intelligence): Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.

Virtue 4: Justice

Justice consists of civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.  The following mind map lists the three strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.

Civic Strengths

Civic Strengths Defined

Teamwork (citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty): Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one's share.

Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.

Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintaining good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.

Virtue 5: Temperance

Temperance involves strengths that protect against excess.  The following mind map lists the four strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.

Strengths Protecting Against Excess

Temperance Strengths Defined

Forgiveness and Mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others' shortcomings; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.

Modesty and Humility: Letting one's accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.

Prudence: Being careful about one's choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.

Self-Regulation (self-control): Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one's appetites and emotions.

Virtue 6: Transcendence

Transcendence consists of strengths that forge connections to the universe and provide meaning.The following mind map lists the five strengths that belong to this group - each is briefly defined thereafter.

Strengths Providing Meaning and Connection

Transcendence Strengths Defined

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (awe, wonder, elevation): Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.

Hope (optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation): Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.

Humour (playfulness): Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.

Religiousness and Spirituality (faith, purpose): Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the lager scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.


Centre for Business Intelligence,  Stellenbosch University, 12 Murray Street, Stellenbosch, South Africa

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