Ones Easier Way to Make Someone Happier

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

When my son was admitted to the hospital for an inflammation in his lungs, he spent several days being treated and monitored by a variety of doctors, nurses, and aides. My wife and I spent the days sitting by his bedside, attempting to work remotely, and discussing his progress with the staff. During one of his checkups, a team of three doctors came in and went through the standard questions, comments, and advice. Nothing new.

But one doctor, the one with the Irish accent, did something different. She offered some observations of my son. Among a handful of statements she made describing him, I caught the words: “vibrant,” “hard-working,” and “inquisitive.” Her exact words. My mind immediately went to the thought that she seemed to be spotting his character strengths. I was hearing particular character traits like “zest,” “perseverance,” and “curiosity.”

I asked her to explain her view of each observation. She readily did. She explained how he is full of energy, and is always moving his arms and legs, and turning his body with force (zest). She noted how he is quick to look around in the room, albeit a limited space, in an exploratory way, and is ready to interact with people when they approach him (curiosity). And, she added, he works hard at whatever challenge he is given whether it’s to reach a toy, sit up, or finish eating, and that his congestion and wires hooked up to his body do not get in his way ( perseverance).

Even though she was not aware of it, she was offering strengths spotting. And this had an immediate positive effect on my mood. I felt lighter and happier. My perception of her, a physician looking at all aspects of my son and not just his illness, widened and strengthened. I will never forget that physician, or her Irish accent.

Oh, did I mention my son was only 8-months-old? Strengths spotting can start anytime, any place, with anyone.

Strengths Spotting in Real Life

Knowing that this physician had probably not heard of positive psychology or of the new science of character strengths, I explained to her what she had done: amidst the problems and difficulties, she had taken time to notice the good, to spot what is strong, to shift from weakness to strength. I told her, in front of the other medical staff and physicians at the morning rounds, how much I appreciated what she had done. This feedback seemed to give her a mood boost, and I noticed her physician colleagues suddenly jumping on the bandwagon wanting to offer their positive feedback as well.

A virtuous circle had been created. The strengths spotting of one person to another led to positive feelings which in turn led to further strengths spotting and positive feelings, and so on.

Want to get better at strengths spotting? It will boost your mood and the mood of others. Here are some tips to help you get started.

How to Spot Strengths in Anyone

  • Practice observing people. At your next social event, emphasize listening and looking over speaking.
  • Put on “strengths goggles” by listening/looking for strengths in the people around you. It might be helpful to have this list of character strengths in front of you.
  • Label the positive in a precise way. “I see bravery in you.”
  • Offer an example or rationale for the strength you see. “I see fairness in you because you always seem to stick up for other people.”
  • Make your feedback to people genuine and honest.
  • Keep your feedback relevant to the situation you are in.
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