The Character Strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Winter in New York is a dark and deary time. It’s also relentless – in that winter can last from October to May, bringing howling winds, bitter coldness and snowstorms. For that reason and many others, New Yorkers tend to spend most of their winters indoors. Especially after daylight savings hits, the days become rather short, with darkness falling around 4:30 pm. When the workday ends later than sundown, New Yorkers bundle up to leave their concrete jungle, putting on layers upon layers – scarves, hats, gloves, boots, and thick winter coats. There are no rooftop happy hours, no walks in Central Park, and strolls through SoHo. Just a quick hustle towards the closest train station, and then a miserable and bitter-cold walk home.

As a former California girl, I didn’t realize how deeply winters in New York affected me. Without access to sunlight, that sweet, sweet, vitamin D, I was feeling worse by the day. Whether it was with friends, colleagues, or even complete strangers, we complained about the weather. We lathered our skin in excessive amounts of lotion to combat dryness, wore a lot of black sweaters to cover our pale tones. Getting dressed for work felt like getting dressed to go into battle.

One day, a few friends and I were chatting, and we decided that enough was enough. If the weather wasn’t going to change as yet another nor’easter was going to be upon us, we would do it ourselves. We impulsively booked a long weekend trip to Bermuda.

 Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.  Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.

It wasn’t until we arrived, and I dipped my toes – actually I practically ran into the ocean, embracing 65F, which Bermudians consider “too cold to swim”, that I realized just how much nature meant to me. I was in complete awe of the beauty of what surrounded me. The pink sand between my toes, the cold, clear ocean waves upon my skin and the open, salty air. I felt connected to all of it. Gratitude, peace, and joy swelled in my heart. I was WOWed. I loved every moment of being on that beach. I felt a thrilling sense of overwhelming awe. At that moment, I recalled one of my top character strengths – Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a character strength that has been studied by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, the pair who developed the VIA Institute of Character Strengths. Defined as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds,” it falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.

Peterson and Seligman have determined that there are three types of goodness for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:

Physical beauty. This may be visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the individual experiencing it.

Skill or talent (excellence). This is often energizing, and makes the individual want to pursue their own goals. It produces admiration.

Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Virtual goodness makes the individual want to be better, more loving, and produces feelings of elevation.

Unsurprisingly, I respond to all three. Feelings of awe and inspiration are absolutely critical to my well-being, and I need these moments to be happy, just like I need air to breathe. Now you might feel more drawn towards one or two types rather than all three, or you might find yourself like me – drawn to all of them.

Remember when you were a child? You probably experienced this type of awe and wonder all the time. Whether it was something new and novel, something that was physically beautiful, or seeing excellence in performance or art, you audibly exclaimed “WOW!” What does that for you now? Taking the time to cultivate the character strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence makes our lives better, more meaningful, more worthwhile. By reconnecting with the beauty of nature, we are able to get in touch with our sense of inspiration, awe, and wonder.

So here are some quick tips to help you reconnect with nature, even if you live in the city and it’s winter, like I do.


1. Get out. Go for a walk. Do something else that’s a change in routine. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Make it a slow stroll, and be mindful of the little bits of beauty and joy around you.

2. Make time and effort for little pleasures. Buy yourself flowers, plant a little garden (even an urban garden), and watch those documentaries on Netflix about people who have done extraordinary things or have excelled in their fields. Print out vacation photos and put them in your office to remind you of times where you truly were connecting with nature.

3. Travel. Traveling is one of the best things to do to open up our minds and explore new things that can lead to that sense of wonder and awe. When traveling, fully engage with the experience of being somewhere novel and new. Lose yourself in the experience and take full advantage of any nature experiences that are afforded by that location.


I’m not going to lie, coming back to yet another nor’easter after a beautiful 3 days in Bermuda wasn’t easy. But I came back with the new perspective of making time and effort for reconnecting with nature. And though it’s not completely the same as being in Bermuda, I ended up visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was amazing! Who knew that just 30 minutes away from my apartment in Queens lies a wonderful world of natural beauty.

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What Would Be Your Signature Job Title?

A year or so ago, I met someone during a training seminar in Washington D.C., and she introduced herself as a Director of First Impressions. As a fellow Learning and Development professional, much of her job revolved around orientation and on-boarding new employees. She was bubbly, enthusiastic and kind – the type of girl who exhibited all the characteristics of what it means to Positively Sparkle. As we connected, I began to realize that her title was more than just a job. Being a Director of First Impressions was at the core of her identity, values and strengths, and it wasn’t just a title, it represented her purpose.

So what’s in a job title anyway? All of us seem to have job titles at work, and we tout them around even after hours– at networking events, at social happy hours, house parties, and family gatherings. They’re on our business cards, our email signatures, our name badges. Some of us find immense pride in our titles, others, not so much. In the corporate world, titles help us to establish hierarchy. We know that the letters C, or VP mean that you are a leader in the organization with significant impact. Some of us would say that our title represents exactly what our job functions entail, yet again, others, not so much. There are such a vast variety of job titles that even knowing which one to search for on online job posting boards requires intensive research. We mold our resumes to fit the job title and description, painstakingly researching keywords and applying relevant knowledge and experience to fit the “role”.

Yet, if a title is a representation of who we are and what we bring to the table, why shouldn’t we create our own? Several organizations have begun the process of letting employees choose their own job titles. At Berkshire Hathaway, there is a Director of Chaos. The IT department at Netflix are called NERDS, and the CEO of the Make a Wish Foundation is called the Fairy Godmother of Wishes.

People say that their self-created job titles help them to focus on the joyful parts of their job versus the hardships, and research shows that the titles provide self-verification, psychological safety and external rapport. Now while not all of us are going to be able to create our own job title at work, let’s take a moment to discover, just for ourselves, what would be our signature job title?

Mine would be: Sparkle Creator. Because I love creating experiences that delights, invigorates and brings joy to others. I seek to innovate on learning for leaders that spark positive change for people and organizations. My life purpose: to leave a little sparkle wherever I go.

Start with Strengths

Strengths psychology is based on the premise that instead of focusing on what is wrong with people, we should focus on what is right with people. Imagine if you were able to do only the things that you do best at work. How productive would you be? Each of us has a unique set of talents that we are born with. Think about what your talents might be. What do people consistently recognize you for? What comes naturally to you? Now answer the following questions below. If you respond “yes” to these questions, they might give you some insight as to whether you have talents in those areas.


  1. Do you have a color-coded, or otherwise very organized closet?
  2. Do you find it easy to talk to anyone anywhere, whether it is in elevators, supermarkets or while waiting in line?
  3. Do you find it easy to relate to others, their pains and joys?
  4. Do you enjoy puzzles and board games?
  5. Are you considered the “fixer” in your family? Are you always solving problems?
  6. Do you feel like it’s difficult to let go of work, even on vacation?
  7. Do your strong beliefs guide what you do everyday?
  8. Is it easy  for you to stay on a diet or regimen?
  9. Are you competitive by nature, even when there is no competition?

If you answered “yes” to several of these questions, they might clue you into whether you might have talents or strengths in that particular area. Notice that while some were an absolute “yes”, others might be a resounding “no”. For me, I know I lack discipline and self-control, and staying on a regimen to me sounds almost torturous. So a job where repetition is important may not be the best job for me.

Knowing what your strengths are is not only important because it is a frequent job interview question, but also because it had tremendous implications in unlocking your potential at work, and in your personal life. By knowing what makes you tick and understanding how strengths play into your day-to-day, you’ll be able to strategically utilize your strengths while managing around your weaknesses. What do I mean about managing around your weaknesses? Perhaps it is finding a partner at work who had different strengths from you, or perhaps it is minimizing the types of tasks that don’t play on your strengths and talents. That way, you can maximize your success by engaging in projects that increase your opportunities for success.

Research in strengths have consistently demonstrated that people who have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday are not only more successful, they are more engaged. In fact,

People who respond positively to the question, “I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday.” are 6 times more likely to be engaged and 3 times more likely to report an excellent quality of life in general.

— Gallup

People who are working in their strengths zone look forward to going to work, have more positive than negative interactions with their colleagues, treat customers better, tell their friends that they work at a great company, achieve more on a daily basis and have more positive, creative and innovative moments.

Now take some time, to think about your strengths. What are you known for at work? You might be the go-to person for this. Are you particularly strong in coming up with fresh, new ideas? Are you able to make the world’s greatest, most organized Excel spreadsheets with built in formulas and pivot tables? Maybe you’re the go-to girl for winning over new customers. Take a moment to think about where you truly sparkle at work. Write down three things that you’re known for, which we’ll call, your strengths.

Now that you have three strengths written down, think about how much time you spend utilizing these strengths at work. How much of your week is spent doing the things that you’re naturally good at? How much time is spent doing things that you might struggle with, or not enjoy? These might be great opportunities to take a look at how you are spending your time, and readjust.