My review of the book “Character Strengths Matter” by Kathryn Britton and Shannon Polly

by Scott Crabtree

What’s even better than an inspiring, innovative, and useful book that helps us thrive? One that also supports a good cause. Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life, edited by Kathryn Britton and Shannon Polly, is just such a book.

Character Strengths Matter explores strengths: those things we do very well and that energize us. The book is organized into two parts: Part One is Exploring Strengths, and Part Two is Taking Action. The strengths explored here are from the VIA Character Strengths Assessment, a research-based tool available free online. (I use the more business-focused StrengthsFinder 2.0 in my workshop Truly Tapping Your Strengths: And Those of Your Team but the VIA assessment is also excellent and useful at work.)

Despite devoting extensive time to learning how to discover, develop, and apply strengths, and teaching the same to numerous organizations, I learned a lot reading this book. I also developed my own strengths further.

This book includes two sections for each strength that encourage us to take action. First, each strength comes with five actions we can take to build a strength. These practical suggestions by Tayyab Rashid are excellent. Second, each strength is followed by a passage to be read aloud to help develop that strength. The authors encourage us to act “as if” we have a strength we want to develop. So after learning about each strength, we get to live that strength. Following the writing about integrity, for example, is a powerful speech by Chief Sitting Bull. It felt transformative to read aloud lines like “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for…It doesn’t interest me how much money you make. I want to know if you have touched the center of your soul.”

CharacterStrengthsMatterBookCoverSection Two explores cultivating strengths in business, taking strengths on vacations, and other interesting approaches to discovering and developing strengths for certain populations such as young children.

Proceeds from the book benefit the Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania; Chris Peterson helped develop strengths scholarship and the VIA assessment.

Is this book perfect? No. Like any collection of writing by various contributors, the style and focus of each entry vary, sometimes in a way that can be a bit disorienting. I also would have found it useful to have more information about each author, and links to learn more about them.

But this book doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be useful. It just has to be strong. And it is very, very strong. I recommend it highly for anyone wanting to develop a full life and thrive.

(Full disclosure: I know and like the authors, and consider them my friends. Especially Kathryn Britton has been a wonderful supporter on my journey to learn about positive psychology and teach organizations how to apply it. I’m writing an honest review and doing my best not to let my friendship influence it, but thought I should mention it in interest of transparency.)