Those living in developed countries tend to equate happiness with financial success. The more money you make, the happy you’ll become. Yet, more and more psychological research suggests that after reaching a certain level of financial success and stability, the benefit to one’s happiness brought about by increases in earnings is marginal at best. In other words, an American making $60,000 per year is almost guaranteed to be significantly happier than another making under $10,000 per year. However the difference in happiness between someone making $75,000 per year and $750,000 per year is hardly detectable.
Regardless of how ubiquitous knowledge of this information is, most people consider financial success to be a primary motivation in how they live their lives. I don’t think this is because they reject the adage that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” I think it’s because they haven’t found a suitable replacement for motivation that they trust. That is precisely where I believe the identification and development of one’s personal strengths comes into play.
The Value of Knowing and Developing One’s Strengths
When you stop and closely analyze the last several times you experienced euphoria (and no, I’m not talking about using drugs), you will discover that in most cases you could also classify them as some of your finest moments. We derive a great deal of satisfaction when we apply ourselves successfully to overcome challenges or enrich our capabilities.
You might complete a difficult weekend home improvement project. You might have a really good time on a long run. You might have a really uplifting dinner meeting with a friend. Or you might significantly increase your knowledge by a trip to a local museum. In each of these situations, various strengths are called upon and improved. Then, we feel happy and satisfied, no financial gain required. If we’re smart, we repeat these situations on a regular basis to continue the pattern of utilizing our strengths and enjoy a regular flow of happiness.
How Do You Identify Your Strengths?
Dr. Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, put together a free strength identifier on the University of Pennsylvania’s website. This 240 question test, will identify your most dominant strengths out of a possible 24 areas that are known to be universal (strengths valued in every culture, religion, etc).
I took this strengths test and learned that my strengths lied in the area of transcendence, which involves connecting circumstances to a greater narrative. Things like defining a sense of purpose or being future-minded are strengths of mine. Every time I utilize these strengths in daily living, I experience satisfaction and happiness. I would encourage you to take the test to identify your own strengths.
I started this post by highlighting the challenge the developed world has with equating happiness with financial success. This isn’t to say that I don’t value financial success nor is it to tell you to stop valuing it. I simply want to point out the difficulty in making that a primary or dominant means to achieve happiness. As I said already, developing one’s strengths provides a much more sustainable source of happiness.
Once you’ve identified your strengths, think about how they can be applied to daily living. For me, having a sense of purpose is a strength of mine. I can develop this by making it a regular part of the discussions I have with others, the projects I lead, or the way I go about daily living. By defining and refining the purpose of the things I do, I can enhance my own understanding of what purpose really means and become aware of it.
One of your strengths may end up being valor and bravery. You will experience a great deal of satisfaction by successfully testing this area of your life and bringing others along with you. You can seek out ambiguous or challenging climates to operate within and fight for what you know to be right. When you do so, happiness flows through you.
Below I’ve included my top five strengths. Once you take the free test, I’d encourage you to share your strengths and any experiences you’ve had in exhibiting them. Good luck!
Steve Hill’s strengths:
- Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
- Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
- Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
- Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness