Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0213 - Signature Strengths

When dealing with a diagnosis of cancer, there can be little doubt that boosting one's self-esteem, sense of control, and overall optimism are useful objectives, whether or not those cognitive adaptations are positively distorted or not. Sure, there are occasions when the distortion might be counter-productive, such as when the patient decides that further medical interventions are not warranted simply because of a high level of optimism about overall outcomes. But generally speaking, having positive emotions about one's current and future health (distorted or not) is worthwhile.

But in addition to positive feelings or emotions, Martin Seligman argues that overall happiness or well-being can be the product of character strengths and personality traits. Specifically, the benefits arise from living the virtuous life, despite the ongoing battle with cancer or other chronic disease.

Each of us, he argues, have a set of signature strengths, which are ubiquitous in all human cultures and periods. By exercising these strengths daily, we become more virtuous. By becoming more virtuous, our overall well-being is enhanced.

Here's an example. Very, very early this morning, as I waited for my eldest son to get home from a party with friends, I took the site's VIA Strength test in order to discover my personal signature strengths and the virtues they support. The results, in descending order, were as follows (strength followed by the virtue it supports):

1. Love of learning (wisdom and knowledge)
2. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality (wisdom and knowledge)
3. Bravery and valor (courage)
4. Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty (justice)
5. Curiosity and interest in the world (wisdom and knowledge)

The VIA stands for values in action. Whatever the accuracy of the test, I sense a resonance with the results. Exercising these strengths on a daily basis should help me live a more virtuous life, something which doesn't guarantee experiencing positive emotions. Instead, it puts me into a state in which emotions are largely irrelevant. Time disappears as I get lost in the flow.

Thus far, I've only taken the test. Now my goal is to see what really happens with daily exercise of my signature strengths. Will I see results that improve my odds in battling cancer? I don't know, but obviously, it cannot hurt.
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