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The key to increasing engagement is to identify your strengths and develop a plan for implementing them into your life. Character strengths form a large part of engagement. Finding and applying our character strengths enables us to feel great satisfaction and appreciation of ourselves, others and the world. It helps us to think more clearly, openly and increases our motivation and passion for life.

This information will help you:

  • define engagement in the context of positive psychology
  • define and explore character strengths.
Boy with striped sweater and girl in lecture

How can you know if you are engaged?

When we become engaged in an activity, time seems to fly by in what is called 'flow'. This is one reason we have hobbies into which we can throw ourselves in to.

Being engaged at work can also be very enjoyable. Finding enjoyment in tasks is key to having a productive workplace or classroom - the key to this is knowing your character strengths.

Character strengths - What are they?

Everyone has strengths, although we often find ourselves focusing on our weaknesses. So it may be that you might just not have discovered yours yet. This can take time, and might not be obvious at first.

The sorts of strengths we're talking about here are personality traits - for example integrity, originality and kindness, not talents like being able to run really fast or sing with perfect pitch.

Strengths are more voluntary than talents, which you are usually born with. Strengths involve choices about when to use them, and whether to build them up or not, and can be acquired by almost any person. For example, you might choose to be kind, and to make an effort to try and be kind in many different ways in your everyday life.

Strengths vary greatly from person to person - you might be really good at dealing with people, or you might be amazing at just getting stuff done, no matter how frustrating or difficult it is.

Once you have an idea of what your strengths are, this might be useful for knowing where you might want to focus your energy.

Why focus on strengths for engagement?

Quite often people take the opposite approach to focusing on strengths - that is, to try and identify and fix their weaknesses and problems. While it is admirable to try and improve in areas where you're less strong, if you spend too much time working on improving some of your weaknesses, this may actually be unproductive.

In contrast, research from the area of positive psychology suggests that focusing on your strengths is more productive. It suggests that it is of greater benefit for you to accept your relative weaknesses, and concentrate your energy on using your strengths that are worth building up (that is, the positive attributes) as much as you can.

How do you know what your strengths are?

You might feel like you've always known what you're good at, and what you're not so good at. Or, you might find it difficult to pin-point exactly what your strengths are, or you might feel like you're good at quite a few things, and don't know what you should focus on. This is OK, and it may only be with time that you discover what you're good at in particular.

Either way, here are a few suggestions for finding out what your strengths are:

Talk to people. Talking to people you trust about what your strengths might be may be helpful. They may have noticed things about you which you yourself aren't aware of.

What do people frequently compliment you on? There may be specific areas of your life that people often praise you for. Try and think of what these things are - it probably means that it's something you're quite good at!

What aspects of your life are you most proud of? If there's something in your life you're proud of, it might mean it's something you're strong at.

What skills have you learned very easily? If you've learnt something easily, there's a good chance you're probably pretty good at it, and it might be a strength of yours.

When do you feel most like yourself? This might also give you an idea of what you're good at, and what makes you happy.

Take the strengths quiz. Check out the quiz on psychologist Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness website for more clues on where your strengths may lie. The survey rates you on 24 Signature strengths - there is a short quiz of 24 questions and a longer one of 240 questions, and it's free!

Keeping a track of your strengths. Explore our teachers resource My Wellbeing. My Classroom. to discover our tracking templates for character strengths.

Top 5 strengths associated with higher levels of wellbeing

  1. Gratitude
  2. Optimisim
  3. Zest and energy
  4. Curiosity
  5. The ability to love and be loved