The 24 Universal Character Strengths
The landscape of human strengths suggests that each of us carries 24 universal traits, which are grouped into six main categories referred to as virtues:
🦁 Courage: Enthusiasm, Integrity, Bravery
🧠 Knowledge/Wisdom: Curiosity, Creativity, Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective
⚖️ Justice: Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
🙇♂️ Temperance: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Control
🌌 Transcendence: Purpose, Humor, Optimism, Gratitude, Appreciation of Beauty
🌍 Humanity: Kindness, Social Intelligence, Love
Yet, it brings to light a critical question: Why do we seek to classify our qualities into neat, predefined boxes? Why do we always need to compare ourselves to some standard of virtues?
Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson’s research identified 24 character strengths as universal across cultures through their research in personality psychology. Linking the development of these strengths to a better quality of life, they noted the adaptability of traits like humor, prudence, and spirituality. Curiosity and perseverance emerged as strong predictors for achieving goals and enhancing life satisfaction.
But maybe it’s time to dig deeper by questioning the need for rigid categorization, advocating for a move beyond being boxed in and compared to everyone else. Was William Shakespeare correct in suggesting, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”
In today’s world stage, marked by increased strife and division, the idea of universal character strengths prompts deep questioning of conformity to what exists.
Do these 24 strengths encompass all of human potential, or do they offer a comforting yet restrictive framework that overlooks the distinct and diverse nature of our experiences?
If these virtues are indeed universal, it prompts the question of why our news narratives focus more on fear and division rather than these unifying qualities. Could it be that what sells in the media is not our virtues but the sensationalism of conflict? This disconnect invites us to examine what we value and highlight in our lives and society.
This framework promotes virtues like courage, wisdom, and humanity. Yet, we must ask ourselves, are these categories exhaustive? Do they fully capture the essence of what it means to thrive in an increasingly divided world? While these strengths may have stood the test of time across cultures, they are not the final word on character. They are starting points for deeper inquiry.
Perhaps these traits are not static, but dynamic qualities that invite exploration as to why they are not very universal in the information we receive. Can we remain open to the possibility of strengths that lie beyond the current scope and look beyond the boxes? As we face global upheavals, can we focus also on the ability to adapt, to unlearn and relearn, to navigate ambiguity, and to build resilience in the face of uncertainty?
Beyond the Boxes of the 24 Universal Character Strengths
Studies have linked certain strengths, like curiosity and perseverance, to goal attainment and life satisfaction. Yet, this too should be a prompt for further exploration. How do these strengths interact with the complex web of global challenges we face? Can they foster not just personal growth, but collective wellbeing?
And where is the strength we need to question and no longer accept broken systems? That we have the power to shift our history. Because we do when we are no longer boxed in.
Furthermore, the role of these strengths in decision-making suggests a dichotomy between analytical reasoning (the known) and intuition (the unknown). However, reality often demands a synthesis of both. Conscious leadership calls for a conscious balance of empathy and strategy, foresight and action.
We are moving into a world where words fall short, and where our trust in our own capabilities must rise above the confines of corrupt unconscious leadership. Where does health, trust and community enter our collective stage and our ability to create in our own way?
Can we challenge ourselves to think beyond the constraints of traditional categorizations? Do we dare engage with the world not just as it is, but as it could be—a place where our strengths are not just inherited attributes but evolving tools that help us build a healthier, more harmonious existence for ourselves and each other. A world beyond boxes and playing roles in someone else’s script.
We can pretend to play a role or we can show up; no longer needing to ask what is fake and what is real when we are.