The strengths approach involves studying when people are at their best. This sometimes involves focusing on two kinds of strengths.
* Character strengths.
These include qualities such as altruism, courage and resilience.
* Creative strengths.
These include qualities such as performing superb work in certain activities.
Sometimes, of course, people can combine the two kinds of strengths.
Samuel and Pearl Oliner highlight character strengths in their book The Altruistic Personality. This chronicles the activities of people who protected Jews during the Holocaust.
Somewhere up to 500,000 non-Jews risked their own lives to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution. They were 'ordinary' people, say Pearl and Samuel: farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, factory workers, rich and poor, parents and single people, Protestants and Catholic.
Different people helped the Jews in different ways. Some offered them shelter; some helped them escape from prison; some smuggled them out of the country. The 'Rescuers' showed that people can do wonderful things, even in the midst of catastrophe. Why? Many had loving backgrounds. Louisa, a Rescuer, says:
"My mother influenced me mostly by love. She was a warm woman, and we admired her for her wit, her wisdom, and her intelligence. She was our friend and we could confide in her."
Samuel and Pearl founded an institute dedicated to the study of altruism. They characterise a person’s behaviour as altruistic when:
* It is directed towards helping another.
* It involves a high risk or sacrifice to the actor.
* It is accomplished by no external reward.
* It is voluntary.
They have found that people who demonstrate these qualities have a strong moral compass. They also embrace the quality of ‘extensivity’. Such people feel a sense of responsibility to both their loved ones and to wider groups of people. This moral compass guides their actions, especially when challenged to live their values. Such people demonstrate great character strengths.
You can discover more about Samuel and Pearl’s work at this link to the Institute they founded.