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optimal LIVING: Achieving Your Full Potential in the New Year

The Art and Science of Human Flourishing

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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Are You Flourishing?
Let’s begin with gratitude.


On a daily basis, do you feel as if you are living your life purpose? Are you achieving your full potential? At the dawn of the last decade, questions like these prompted researchers from noted universities to begin a scientific exploration of human flourishing.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues represents a convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history and provides a useful framework for identifying, measuring, and leveraging human strengths.

Discovering your unique strengths can help you be your best in 2011. Signature strengths are positive traits or virtues that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises.

The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) is a self-report questionnaire that measures 24 strengths of character organized under six core virtues. The questionnaire takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and results in a printable report providing a rank order of strengths. The VIA-IS can be accessed free of charge at www.authentichappiness.org.

From your individualized report, look at your top scoring strengths. The top five are referred to as “signature strengths.” Take your list of top scoring strengths and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first.
  • A sense of yearning to find new ways to use it.
  • Invigoration rather than exhaustion when using the strength.
  • Creation and pursuit of projects that revolve around the strength.

If one or more of these criteria apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. The “good life” consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of life.

Scientists, psychologists, and economists are making significant progress in understanding the biological and psychological components of life satisfaction.

At the start of this new decade, we have the opportunity to apply empirically based findings from the past decade to achieve higher levels of life satisfaction, experience, greater meaning and flourish. Over the next 24 months we will explore each of the 24 strengths of character identified in the VIA. Let’s begin with gratitude.

Gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life and recognition that the source of goodness is at least partially outside one self. Gratitude is more than an emotion, it requires a willingness to recognize and acknowledge.

Gratitude has the power to elevate, inspire, energize, and transform. Studies show a direct correlation between gratitude and higher levels of life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. One of the largest longitudinal studies on successful aging identifies gratefulness as a key ingredient in a life well lived.

Exercise: “The Three Blessings” or “What Went Right”

An easy exercise, shown to have sustained positive effect, is the “three blessings” or “what went right” exercise. Every day for the next week or two, set aside ten minutes to write down three things that went well and why they went well. Pick a time of day and the method that works best for you (i.e. a journal or your computer). The items can be big or seemingly small. Next to each of the three blessings identified, note why this happened. Capturing the “why” behind positive events in your life may be awkward at first, but will be easier with practice and is an important part of the exercise.

You can do this exercise on your own, with a partner, child, parent, sibling or close friend. Expressing gratitude together offers additional benefits in strengthening relationships.

The following resources provide more information on positive psychology and gratitude:

Leveraging your signature strengths and practicing gratitude will help you achieve your new year’s resolutions and offers the potential for greater meaning and purpose in 2011.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle


Gordon Parry is the President of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their full potential. In 2005, Gordon was one of 35 students selected globally to complete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.


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