You probably already have some kind of To Do list, but perhaps what you really need at the beginning of this new year is a “Love To Do” List. When you combine your unique interests and passions with knowledge of your character strengths, you will find that you have many powerful ways to bring purpose, energy, and joy into your own life while also making a meaningful contribution to the world around you.
You can start off by using the free, scientifically-validated VIA Survey to help you identity your highest strengths out of a list of 24 character strengths that are valued in almost every culture. Your highest strengths are the ones that come most naturally to you and are a core part of your identity. These VIA strengths include qualities such as: Love, Forgiveness, Leadership, Humor, Bravery, Curiosity, and Creativity. There are youth and adult versions of the VIA Survey in multiple languages making it an excellent tool for individual use, as well as for use in families, schools, workplaces, and organizations of all kinds.
Once you have taken the VIA Survey and have read through your results, go back through them and ask yourself this question about each one of your Top 5 to 7 strengths: How do the things I most enjoy doing allow me to express this particular character strength? For instance, your love of reading could possibly reflect your strengths of Curiosity or Love of Learning. Your love of playing team sports might be an expression of your character strengths of Teamwork, Zest, or evenBravery. The same activity that provides one person with an opportunity to express their strength of Kindness might inspire the strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence in someone else.
Strive to connect each one of your signature strengths to at least one of your favorite activities. So for example, some of my highest VIA character strengths are Forgiveness, Humor, Curiosity, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Love, Fairness, Perspective, and Love of Learning. Now take a look at a few of the items on my personal "love-to-do” list and see if you notice any connections:
- Reading to my daughter and using Google to find answers to all the interesting questions that she is always asking;
- Turning boring or dreaded tasks into challenges and games;
- Brightening up spaces and making them look happy and cheerful;
- Learning about other cultures and holidays;
- Planning festive, fun celebrations and activities that help build community;
- Discovering new books and ideas and researching anything that I am curious about….like strengths, for instance!
- Planning fun ways to teach children to understand and appreciate differences;
- Inspiring people to make positive changes in their lives or to work together towards a common goal or vision;
- Understanding the “big picture” when working on any project and helping people strategize about how to achieve important and meaningful goals;
- Helping find creative or novel solutions to community challenges;
- Helping to make things better in my neighborhood public schools;
- Helping someone new become a part of a group or helping someone feel at ease in a new environment;
- Connecting people to one another and helping them become friends;
- Building community in my neighborhood, at work, or really anywhere that I am;
- Making people smile, laugh, or feel good about themselves;
- Helping people feel hopeful and confident in their own abilities;
- Helping people to be more forgiving of themselves and others;
- Being in environments where I get to chit chat briefly with lots of different people;
- Creating opportunities to celebrate…and finding new things to celebrate every day;
- Coming up with fun ways to teach people how to understand and use their own strengths!
When I look at the items on my “Love-To-Do” list, not only do I see all my highest strengths shining through bright and clear, but I also see a powerful collection of ways that I can be really helpful to others simply by doing some of the things I really enjoy. I might not be good at everything (and seriously, name one person who is…), but I can really shine when you need someone to help build relationships in a community…or to come up with a fun, creative way to accomplish a goal…or to help people feel energized and hopeful about collaborating and working together.
It’s absolutely okay if you are not good at or even interested in any of the things on my Love-To-Do List. You have strengths and talents in some areas where I really struggle to perform well…and that is exactly why we need each other. There is always something that you love to do that someone in the world struggles with or could really use some help getting done. Always.
It was Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, the esteemed theologian, civil rights activist, and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
So my hope for you this year is that you will take the good Rev. Dr. Thurman’s words of wisdom to heart and come alive with your character strengths today. Start by creating and following through on your own “Love To Do” List. You could use the joy and energy…and the world sure could use your strengths!