In April 2022, I asked 9,000 people the following question:
Which character strength do you want/wish you could use more to help with your mental health/mental well-being?
I was curious what people really wanted to tap into within them in order to generate greater mental well-being. I figured people would nominate the character strengths of love or kindness as we know these strengths are instrumental in our self-care as well as in benefiting ourselves when we extend them to people in our life. I wondered if spirituality might rise to the top since we know that finding meaning in life and connecting with the transcendent or something-greater can positively impact our mental well-being. I thought another strength people might choose would be hope because hope is one of the most important drivers of why people seek mental health services in the first place.
But, none of those strengths reached the top 5 of people’s wishes!
I know you are curious so let me share the top 5 strengths, starting with the highest.
The largest percentage of people said the character strength they would most like to have for their mental health is self-regulation. People want more self-control. This strength can take many forms - having more control of their feelings, their bad habits, their impulses, their words. People want more discipline in their life, but vices, old habits, and problem behaviors are ingrained, amorphous, hidden, confusing, and often victorious.
Do you want to build more self-regulation in your life? Here’s a science-based strategy:
Start a daily self-monitoring log, using your smart-device or computer. Keep track of how you are feeling mentally, and the food, drink, activities, and people you interact with. Make note of patterns that show up before you feel a certain way.
People want to be braver. I hear this and see this - almost constantly in my work as I interact with people across the globe. It is challenging to be brave enough to move out of one’s comfort zone, to challenge the system or the status quo, to speak an unpopular opinion, to face your fears. No one said bravery is easy. But we do say that it is a pathway to being more authentic and to helping your neighbor.
Do you want to build more bravery in your life? Here’s a science-based strategy:
Focus on the outcome of a courageous act you might commit. For example, remind yourself of the goodness of the action you’d be taking or think of the person you would be helping.
People want to not give up so easily. But that’s not easy. When we are trying to reach a goal, life happens: we feel mental fatigue, we feel physical fatigue, we have negative judgments, people trying to stop us, and daily life getting in the way. Perseverance is that inner voice that says “keep going….keep swimming…don’t give up.”
Do you want to build more perseverance in your life? Here’s a science-based strategy:
Pay attention to your energy and effort when you are working on a task. Celebrate the effort you put forth as opposed to the result. Then, reward yourself when you “try your best,” not when you finish the project.
People want to be more creative. They want to come up with more ideas. Their mind is often an obstacle: “What will people think of what I created?” “What if I fail?” “How much will I lose?” I like that this strength was nominated so high by people as it reminds us that there is great value for our mind if we can open ourselves to new ways of doing things, think of new solutions to our problems, and take action that is novel.
Do you want to build more creativity in your life? Here’s a science-based strategy:
When you are faced with a problem, generate multiple alternate solutions, instead of searching for one “correct” solution. It might also be helpful to brainstorm a list of ideas of potential solutions.
People wish they could be more forgiving. This makes perfect sense. The mental burden of holding onto resentment, anger, and hurt feelings can be overwhelming. Science informs us that forgiveness takes time. It is rarely “one and done.” This means we need to be patient with our forgiveness. We need to make it a practice of letting go, over and over.
Do you want to build more forgiveness in your life? Here’s a science-based strategy:
We all get offended by others from time to time. When someone offends you, pause and think about how the offender is a complex human being who needs to experience positive growth and transformation. This will help you see the person from a new lens, instead of seeing them as “all bad” or “all negative.”
Choose one of these character strengths to build upon with an aim to bolster your mental health.
These findings come from new research on character strengths and mental health that I conducted as I prepare a scientific paper I’ll be publishing later this year. I have many more findings to share. Stay tuned!