What character traits can predict overall well-being? It seems that we, as human beings, aren’t just mental illness cases. We are also built on character.

In Characters Strengths and Virtue: A Handbook and Classification, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman provide a contribution to psychology – an antidote with a focus on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The book showed 24 strengths of character:

  • Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty and Excellence, Spirituality, Gratitude, Hope and Humor,
  • Temperance: Forgiveness and Mercy, Humility and Modesty, Prudence, and Self-Regulation,
  • Justice: Citizenship, Leadership and Fairness,
  • Humanity: Love, Kindness and Social Intelligence,
  • Courage: Bravery, Persistence, Integrity and Vitality and
  • Wisdom: Creativity, Open-Mindedness, Curiosity, Love of Learning and Perspective.

Five Elements of Well-being

There are five fundamental elements of well-being, according to character traits.” Says Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish.

The five elements are as follows: Positive emotions, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments – (PERMA).

The Studies

The main focus of well-being lies on which character traits are strongest, or rather, which traits are most predictive of well-being. Susan Cain, Spencer Greenberg and the Quiet Revolution, in a collaboration, collected data from 517 people. Of these people, ranging between 18 and 71, the average age was 36. This was part of a larger project pertaining to the scale of introversion.

It so happens that all five elements were related to one another. This means that when an individual scored high on one element, they generally scored high on all of them. They can be grouped into a single variable showing that well-being is a latent factor in all five elements.

All 24 character traits were individually correlated except for humility. The top three character traits most connected to well-being were hope, gratitude and love. The bottom three character strengths were prudence, judgment and self-regulation.

With the next regression analysis, the objective was to discover the single most relevant trait influencing overall well-being. Of all 24 character traits, love of learning and gratitude topped the charts. These were the two significant independent positive predictors. The most important trait, which stands alone, is gratitude.

Not all character traits are equal, obviously. If your focus is on well-being, you should stick with gratitude and love of learning. Humility, for instance, is not one of the top traits in predicting well-being, but it should never be left out. Humility is seen as a very important aspect of character development and we need more humble people in our world.

Although humility is not on the top, we should realize that there are more things than well-being that classify the good in all of us. If we are humble, we can experience more gratitude and love of learning. It’s a win/win for all of us!

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