Character Strengths and Spirituality
Summary of Research Findings
- This chapter describes the process, pitfalls, purpose, and strategy for integrating character strengths in a Holocaust museum. One of the results, the Holocaust and Humanity museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, offers the horrors and realities of the Holocaust and shares about the victims, perpetrators, bystanders, and also the upstanders. The upstanders are those individuals that used tremendous strengths of character (e.g., perseverance, bravery, perspective, kindness, creativity, hope, etc.) in order to help others, be resilient, and confront unfathomable adversities. The upstanders focus leads to the “humanity” section of the museum, which also offers discussion of contemporary issues in today’s society, while conveying the importance of humans turning to their inner depths to take action, pursue goodness, and do the right thing (Jacobs, Berenbaum, & Niemiec, 2021).
Jacobs, E., Berenbaum, M., & Niemiec, R. M. (2021). Holocaust and humanity: Depicting realities while creating pathways for future upstanders, strengths use, and flourishing. In J. Pawelski & L. Tay (Eds.), The Oxford handbook on the humanities and human flourishing. New York: Oxford University Press.
- This chapter offers qualitative research conducted on a special project involving training distinguished rabbis working in congregations across the United States to lead initiatives of flourishing and character strengths in their congregations. Includes a study that examined the rabbis, the trainers, and the recipients (i.e., congregants) and shows that character strengths have substantial impact and potential as enablers of flourishing in religious and spiritual contexts (Hershberg, Niemiec, & Kula, 2021).
Hershberg, R., & Niemiec, R. M., & Kula, I. (2021). The flourishing congregations project: A qualitative study of rabbis, congregants, and facilitators of strengths and flourishing applications. In J. Pawelski & L. Tay (Eds.), The Oxford handbook on the humanities and human flourishing. New York: Oxford University Press.
- This study examined the instrument, Using Private Prayer for Coping-Revised scale, within the natural disaster context, and showed support for a link between faith and character strengths mediated by private prayer coping and perceived spiritual support (Ai et al., 2022).
Ai, A. L., Raney, A. A., Paloutzian, R. F., Lemieux, C. M., & Huang, B. (2022). Spiritual coping, emotional responses to existential challenges, and character strengths: Revision and validation of the using private prayer for coping scale (uppc-r). International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508619.2022.2029069
- Study of character strengths and the role of religion and spirituality among victims of natural disasters. The analysis of 491 people found that hope negatively predicted depression and victims reporting high levels of religion/spirituality factors and low character strengths levels experienced the most depression symptoms. These researchers conclude noting that the protection provided by religion/spirituality factors in disasters may be due to the positive impact of character strengths (especially those in the transcendence virtue; Raney et al., 2022).
Raney, A. A., Ai, A. L., & Paloutzian, R. F. (2022). Faith factors, character strengths, and depression following hurricane michael. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508619.2022.2029045
- Offers the creation of 24 character strengths blessings using the classic beatitudes structure of “Blessed are the--, for they shall--.” The primary focus is framed for enhancing the appreciation of others’ character strengths, and secondarily focused on appreciating one’s own character strengths. Rationale, scientific backbone, description, future research directions, and 10 grounded practical suggestions are offered (Niemiec, 2021).
Niemiec, R. M. (2021). Character strengths beatitudes: A secular application of ancient wisdom to appreciate strengths for spiritual happiness and spiritual growth. Religions, 12(11), 1000. DOI: 10.3390/rel12111000 PDF available here.
- Following an intervention with college students, improvements in well-being, relating to others, strengths, spiritual change, and appreciation of life were found (Liu & Yu, 2021).
Liu, Y., & Yu, Y. (2021). Effect of intervention based on character-strength on positive growth and emotion among college students. Hans. https://doi.org/10.12677/AP.2021.119228
- The GROW program is a 24-week resilience program focused on the 24 character strengths and Biblical oral storytelling. In a study of 28 classes across 643 youth in Zambia, there were observed impacts on academic performance, school attendance, and students’ character and behavior, as well as pre-post increases in resilience (Seale et al., 2021).
Seale, J. P., Seale, D., M., Pande, Y., Lewis, T. M., Manda, W., Kasanga, L., Gibson, E. B., Hadfield, K., Ogoh, T., McGrath, R. E., & Harris, S. K. (2021). GROW Zambia: A pilot cluster-randomized trial of a spiritually-based character strengths training curriculum to enhance resilience among Zambian youth. Journal of Positive Psychology, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1913640
- Argues that the VIA Classification represents “the decoding of the human spirit.” It outlines the six levels by which spirituality is already infused within the VIA Classification and offers wholeness as a superordinate virtue therein. Theorizes how the fields of spirituality and character strengths can mutually enhance one another, outlining the grounding path (ways in which character strengths ground and enhance spirituality) and the sanctification path (ways in which spirituality enhances character strengths through the sacred). Concludes with an exploration of five evidence-based practices for each pathway (Niemiec, Russo-Netzer, & Pargament, 2020).
Niemiec, R. M., Russo-Netzer, P., & Pargament, K. I. (2020). The decoding of the human spirit: A synergy of spirituality and character strengths toward wholeness. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02040
- Explores how character strengths can be viewed as pathways toward nonduality and that spirituality can be understood and practiced by using character strengths. Argues that the VIA Classification represents a classification of the positive human spirit. (Littman-Ovadia & David, 2020).
Littman-Ovadia, H., & David, A. (2020). Character strengths as manifestations of spiritual life: Realizing the non-dual from the dual. Frontiers in Psychology. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00960
- In a study of over 1,300 Israeli adolescents over 14 months, a factor called “spirituality” emerged in addition to factors of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual. Spirituality was stable over time and contributed to high prosociality and well-being across the study (Kor et al., 2019).
Kor, A., Pirutinsky, S., Mikulincer, M., Shoshani, A., & Miller, L. (2019). A longitudinal study of spirituality, character strengths, subjective well-being, and prosociality in middle school adolescents. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377
- Demonstrates the finding that spiritual experiences and character traits (gratitude, forgiveness, optimism/hope, perseverance/grit, meaning) among adolescents, young adults, and older adults go together as 83% of adolescents and emerging adults had spirituality and traits coincide (71% of older adults). A small subgroup showed high traits and low personal spirituality across cohorts (Barton & Miller, 2019).
Barton, Y. A., & Miller, L. (2019). Spirituality and positive psychology go hand in hand: An investigation of multiple empirically derived profiles and related protective benefits. Journal of Religion and Health. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-015-0045-2
- Discusses the connection between virtuous thoughts and spiritual emotions and the connection with body and brain to lead to virtuous behaviors, offered as an intersection of science and the Bahá’í faith (Diessner, 2016).
Diessner, R. (2016). The beauty of the human psyche: The patterns of the virtues. Journal of Bahá’í Studies, 26(4), 75-93
Updated July 2022