Why Strength Matters and How to Grow It

You’ll know when you're coming from your strength because you feel invigorated, productive and enterprising.  When you come from your own strengths, life is easier.

The evidence points to your ability to learn far more quickly when you come from strength; you gain greater satisfaction; you perform more easily; and you experience a desire or a yearning to perform the activity more frequently, as you feel you just have to do it.

Strength Matters – Actually We Have Many Strengths

 I’ll focus on two main bodies of research in the strengths discipline: the first in the personal development space and the second in the organization development and leadership space.  In fact, they overlap and co-mingle.  Both offer an excellent online survey that you can take to identify your own strengths.

First step is to  discover  your innate strengths (also called talents) and then you go out, use them and put them to work.  This is the key to optimizing your well-being,  your flourishing, and a happy life;  and by happy life, the emphasis is on the engagement and meaning aspects of happiness.  This kind of happiness is when you are in alignment with your purpose and are contributing in ways that bring you deep joy and satisfaction.

At work, a good indicator that you're using your strengths is when you are fully engaged in an activity, and, while it may be challenging, you feel at one with it and you lose track of time.  In that case, you're experiencing the flow state, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience, introduced to the world.  On the contrary, when your energy is depleted and you're either bored (because the task is too easy) or stressed (because it's too hard and not aligned with your natural strengths), you are not in that flow state.  It robs you of productivity and vitality.

But first, let me define “strengths” in the context of human and organization development with a brief overview. 

Character Strengths – Virtues in Action

I’ll start with character strengths developed by the late Chris Peterson of the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania,  deemed the father of positivity psychology, and others.  

With knowledge of your character strengths, it is possible to express and develop character and be poised to better direct talents and abilities into meaningful and engaging behaviors that improve your own life and the lives of others.   

This research identified a framework of 24 character strengths that are classified into 5 broad areas of strengths, namely,

  •  cognitive
  • emotional
  • social and community
  • protective
  • spiritual

Your top five strengths in any one of these broad areas are your innate character strengths and when you work with them and bring them into all aspects of your life, you have much greater capability to live a life that engages you fully and is meaningful.  Seligman talks about the Good Life as

Using your strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life

You can become aware of own strengths by paying attention to the activities that absorb you, that make time fly by andStrength matters you feel they are totally occupying you in a good way, that may also be challenging, yet you just want to be doing it.

For me designing courses and facilitating and writing and speaking bring out the best in me. I get into that flow state and I am totally engaged. It’s not to say it’s not challenging, because challenge and stretching yourself is good.


Signature Strengths – StrengthsFinder

Around the same time in 2001, the late Don Clifton, former Chairman of Gallup  who was deemed “the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology” shared his research of near 30 years.

He had been studying excellence in two million people, finally identifying themes that reflect natural talents, naming them signature strengths. He recommends that for success and fulfillment we

“Capitalize on strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around weaknesses, whatever they may be.”

Clifton defines strengths as

“Consistent near perfect performance in an activity . . . the ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully.

Clifton’s findings reveal that your top five signature strengths are themes of talent and therefore are your highest potential for development, because that’s where you will find the greatest satisfaction and do what comes most naturally.

“By focusing on your top five themes, you will actually become stronger, more robust, more open to new discoveries and, importantly, more appreciative of people who possess themes very different from your own.”

Take the Surveys

I invite you to go online and take one or both of these strength surveys (listed below) to help you learn about your best attributes and where you can leverage your potential to create the changes that will lead to a more satisfying and meaningful life.

The VIA Survey

VIA stands for Virtues In Action at the website

The VIA survey is free to take.  I highly recommend it.  You receive a report describing your 24 character strengths with more detail about your top 5.  You can also purchase a range of more detailed reports.   This website is full of excellent explanations and resources.  It's a fabulous resource.

StrengthsFinder Survey

The StrengthsFinder Survey, at the website There is a cost to take this survey , and there are a number of reports you can invest in to learn more about your signature strengths.

Personal Growth and Development Opportunities

Both surveys will help you identify your strengths, and appreciate the strength matters in a whole new, supportive way. You will come away with valuable insights and personal growth and development opportunities.  Inspired by your new found strengths, some of which you will have intuited and some may come as a surprise, you’ll become more consciously aware of your best self what energizes you so you perform with greater ease.

At the same time, you will now have greater understanding why you find yourself struggling at times and feel depleted.  When you are not in your strengths, it takes more effort, more energy and you find it harder to be in that positive state of engagement.   

How You Can Be More Energized than Depleted

You’ll  start to understand which environments stimulate you or bore you; which behaviors calm you or excite you. Over time, this adds up to a life that is efficient, effective, healthy, productive, and satisfying.

Positive Workplace Culture at Buffer, With Carolyn Kopprasch – PS031

Buffer Logo for the Positive Workplace Culture PodcastWorkplace culture determines how well people support and serve each other, internal to the organization and external. Buffer, the software company that helps us share and schedule our posts, images and tweets across the various networks has a culture that truly walks the talk of positivity, transparency and self-improvement. Carolyn Kopprasch of the Happiness Team at Buffer shares her experience of working at Buffer and what she loves about it.

Episode Introduction

Positive Workplace Culture with Buffer's Customer Happiness Officer, Carolyn Kopprasch (Photo)Carolyn Kopprasch works at Buffer where she’s part of the Customer Happiness Team. Carolyn talks with Positivity Strategist’s Robyn Stratton-Berkessel about positive workplace culture and customer experience.  In our conversation, we focus on the top three values that support Buffer’s culture: “Choose Positivity”; “Default to Transparency”; and “Focus on Self-Improvement.”

Not only do I totally love and depend on my Buffer App to help manage my social media sharing, I am totally admiring of Buffer’s culture.  My history with Buffer goes back about four years.  Back then, I emailed a support question, and, when I received a warm response offering a solution to my issue within a very short timeframe, I was so delighted that I emailed back, to say how happy they made me feel.  Over time, I started to dig around and found out that Buffer’s modus operandi was not only about progressing their product and service, but also the happiness of its users and the Buffer team.

Gratitude is Central to Buffer’s Culture

The one word that best captures working at Buffer for Carolyn Kopprasch is “gratitude”.  During our conversation, Carolyn explains very clearly why ‘gratitude’ is central to her working at Buffer.

Positive Workplace Culture and Gratitude ImageGratitude is, in fact, central to Buffer’s culture. It’s one of the company’s 10 values. She’s grateful for the team she works with; they work remotely all over the world; they express gratitude to each other, and there’s a lot of love in the team.

When it comes to customers, gratitude extends deep and wide. She says:  “We get to do this [work] because of our customers!”

Listen in to a couple of great stories that Carolyn shares about how gratitude is a two-way street – how all Buffer team members show gratitude to the customers and how the customers show gratitude to Buffer. An example of this reciprocation happened when customer accounts were hacked and Buffer received an outpouring of appreciation about how well Buffer handled the situation.

Three Good Reads from Buffer Blog

Buffer-Values For A Positive Workplace CultureBuffer not only supports its customers with social media scheduling in a very easy way for people like you and me and businesses as well, it also provides a lot of great marketing and human development resources through its blogs.  In the links below you can read three really great posts: 1) the 10 Buffer Values; 2) about happiness and positivity in the organization;  and 3) how it recently acquired its own domain name to (it will be transitioning from its original name,

Evolving as an Organization

One constant in Buffer is change. Growth has been steady and finding the best way to organize a remote workforce has been an exciting journey. Tools to keep the whole team and the smaller teams together are key. Carolyn talks about a number of these in our conversation.

Self-managing teams is how work gets done at Buffer.  Inspired by Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux, Buffer is designed as a Teal Organization. The members of each team can contribute to other teams so that all are contributing ideas across the whole organization, whether they are part of the Happiness Team or Production Team or Product Team, or whatever, so ideas mingle and mesh together.

Positive Workplace Culture and Values at Buffer

Carolyn provides terrific insights into the first three values at Buffer. She explains how “kindness” was a core value from the beginning and then explains how the existing 10 values came into being.

We talk in some detail about the first three.

Choose Positivity  

Being happy is a choice.  You can make every individual moment count. In every situation – even the challenges – there is something to be appreciated. Struggles can be blessings.

Listen in to examples and how Carolyn makes the distinctions between positivity and happiness;  positivity and joy; and positivity and gratitude.

Default to transparency

Buffer is reknown for its transparency and openness. It shares everything about its revenues, salaries, performance with the public, unless it’s not possible because a third party may request something not be disclosed, as in the price that was paid to the entity that sold buffer the domain name

Internally, all emails are open to all, as are all other transactions and communications.

Focus on self-improvement

Everyone in the organizations has self-improvement goals which are shared openly.  Team members form into pairs each week and daily they account to each other about the progress of their self-improvement goals.

A number of the goals are common to everyone, such as getting good and enough sleep, daily physical exercise, and healthy eating to name three. Then there are the individual self-improvement goals which the pairs support each other on to help them stay on track.

One of the great benefits of the accountability pairs, according to Carolyn, is that you really get to know your other team members since you communicate daily for a week while you are helping each other with individual goals. It also adds to the value of transparency. You open yourself to your different partner each week.

POSITIVITY LENS for this EpisodePositivity Lens Notebook

Download Carolyn's suggested “positive activities” for this episode: Hint: It’s about accessing resources to increase your positivity, and focussing on gratitude.

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Other Valuable Insights

Buffer uses a tool call Small Improvements to help give feedback to each other.  Within Buffer, they call it feedforward because it has a forward focus. A delightful outcome of using this tool is a feature called “Give Kudos, Give Praise”.  It’s this feature that gets used the most.

Culture is unique to every organization. Therefore, it’s not about replicating one organization’s culture because it works for them into another organization. Even though the “Buffer Way” will not work for everyone, Carolyn does suggest that there are some aspects about the culture at Buffer that may be helpful to others and people may learn from Buffer’s experience to establish their own positive workplace culture.

Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…

Buffers Pablo App - Helping Positive Workplace CultureIf you have a desire to introduce something new at work, Carolyn suggests you just talk to each other.  Changes evolve over time and can be started by one person suggesting to another: “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” and it may catch on.  Change doesn’t happen by decree.

The new Pablo App, just recently launched was created by a Buffer team member. Pablo enables users to post to their social sites content with images and quotes. I am using it, and it works gorgeously.  As a photographer, I can use my own images with my favorite quotes or inspirational messages. I am getting more retweets with such tweets.  Thank you, again, Buffer Team!

If you have a creative idea, the message is: try it on small scale. If it succeeds and brings joy then go for it

Parting Evidence of Living with Gratitude

When I inquired of Carolyn if Buffer has many people knocking at their door wanting to joining them, Carolyn, with the greatest congruence, responded:

“We’re very lucky that people want to join us, and please the invitation is there.”

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Books Mentioned In This Episode:

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Search 2014 for the Best in Humanity

Search 2014

Search 2014


The video below affirms my choice to be a positivity strategist!

I encourage you to invest 1.32 minutes to watch this video put out by Google, entitled “Year in Search 2014” focusing on the most searched for terms for 2014.

Hold your judgement 🙂

Pictures speak a thousand words

The medium is the message.  Pictures speak a thousand words.  Pick your favorite idiom or quote.  For me it's “words create worlds” and “what you focus on grows.” What we search for, we will find.  Where we put our attention, our energy follows.  These searched for words in this video shine the light on the best of our human story:  Hope, Science, Love, Greatness, Sense-making, Remembrance, Inspiration, Discovery, Imagination.

If you scroll through some of the comments under this video, you'll see also another side of the human condition: the cynicism.  Many are saying this message of hope is hokey-pokey.  These comments reveal a different reality when they claim that  the most searched for words are search for “porn”, “sex” etc.   No doubt, that's real, too.

Search for the best

There are multiple realities.  There's the good and the bad and everything in between.

I value the wholeness of the entire human experience.  This video demonstrates to me that hope, and love, and inspiration, discovery and imagination are what get me out of bed everyday.  Searching for the best in humanity.  Couldn't live without it.

3 Steps to Appreciative Living With Joy Engineer, Jackie Kelm – PS016

Episode Overview – 3 Steps to Appreciative Living With Joy Engineer, Jackie Kelm

Host, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, Positivity Strategist and Jackie Kelm, The Joy Engineer of Appreciative Living engage in conversation and share stories about their passion for Appreciative Inquiry (AI), the strength-based, positive change methodology.  Jackie shares her 3 step Appreciative Living process and announces the launch of her home study course to bring greater joy into our lives whatever the situation, and move beyond our cultural negativity bias.

Mechanical Engineer to Joy Engineer

3 Steps to Appreciative Living with Jackie KelmJackie Kelm started her career as an engineer – a mechanical engineer at General Motors.  She still describes herself as an engineer, but her context and process has shifted.  She’s now The joy Engineer of Appreciative Living LLC.

In this episode, you’ll hear that Jackie’s first awareness of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was during her MBA studies at Case Western Reserve University when she did a class with David Cooperrider.  She was so amazed by his teaching that she was up all night learning more.  She knew this was life changing.

Once Jackie began to apply Appreciative Inquiry as a “change management consultant” and witnessing the extraordinary transformational results it produced, she became more of a “believer.”

Appreciative Living

Life has a way of showing up for us, and, at a significantly challenging time in her life, Jackie decided to apply AI to her own life to lift her from a history of depression.  Jackie came up with her own process of applying the classic 4-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry to her own situation.  The result was personally transformational.  For the first time in her entire life she was happy.

As a result, Jackie wrote her first book, Appreciative Living, The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life.  I love this book.  If you want to find out about the Principles of Appreciative Inquiry, this is the book!

Her next book, The Joy of Appreciative Living, is a highly practical book.  It’s a 28 day guide to joy.

Guide to Joy

Listen in to find out what Jackie discovered when when she applied her own AIA process to herself. What Jackie experienced is that applying Appreciative Inquiry in organizations, as a consultant, or teaching it, does not automatically mean you live it, nor that it’s integrated into your own being.  Jackie suggests there might be some things that map across, but without the personal work, it doesn't mean you are truly living the principles and values of AI.

Jackie’s 3 Step AIA Process

  1. Appreciating what is and finding the good in a situation
  2. Imagining the ideal and thinking about what you really want
  3. Acting in alignment

Positive Principle

The “positive principle” in Appreciative Inquiry embraces positivity.  In the context of Appreciative Living, it’s having a way to automatically see that the good things exist along with the bad.  It is really about valuing a more complete view of reality –  the whole picture.  When we are conscious of the wholeness of life, we’re able to expand how we embrace all the goodness that exists in the world, helping us move beyond our “programmed” cultural negativity bias.

The more you open up the positive and see the good, the more you find the courage and the strength to face and deal with the negative. You’re on the path to appreciate the totality of what it is; and you become so much more aware that our interpretation of what’s going on is totally subjective, just as we become aware that each of us is unique.

Losing All Interest in Life

Can you imagine losing interest in everything, feeling totally flat, not feeling any pleasure or joy; not feeling any emotion even when your children hug you? And, this is a different condition from depression, as nothing touches you.  Jackie, the Joy engineer went through almost two years of this condition, called anhedonia.  She explains her experience of anhedonia during the episode – what she learnt and what she did to cure herself.


Jackie’s research has revealed that brain and gut health are related.  The length of time taking certain medications will impact the health of the gut which has the potential to bring on a condition such as anhedonia. The condition can be hardwired into the brain causing sufferers to lose touch with their emotions.

Learning these facts ignited Jackie to create exercises to stimulate the part of the brain affected by anhedonia.  After 4 weeks, she noticed changes for the good,  and after 6 weeks she began to experience positive emotions again.  However, feeling positive emotions did not make her automatically feel a happy person.

Next, was to apply her Appreciative Living (AIA) exercises.  She found success and she was able to build her happiness right back up again.  Jackie shares her joy at telling her personal story that her AIA  cycle  has worked for her twice now.

Growth Mindset

Considering these setbacks in her life, I inquired into what Jackie truly values about herself, having overcome such suffering.  She reflected that her strength and what she values about herself is that she has a “growth mindset” – a term that resonated from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset (link below.)  Jackie has a strong belief, and now evidence, that she can figure it out.  She also reflected that she is extremely persevering.  She has overcome challenges, and continuous learning gets her there.

Appreciative Living in Practice

Listen in to learn more about the home-study course that Jackie offers.  It’s a self-paced course of six weeks.  Jackie is extremely excited to offer this course,  as it contains the best of all that she’s done to date.  There are daily exercises to help you overcome any negativity; it will help you see the good in life and create an ideal vision; it will guide you through inspired action planning that is essential to make it happen.

In a nutshell, it’s a progam:

  • for leading a successful life in alignment with your own motivations and aspirations,
  • with a toolbox for life-long learning,
  • offering daily, weekly practices so that you stay on top of all that happens.

As the the Joy Engineer, Jackie’s greatest joy comes from watching others apply the ideas and practices of Appreciative living to make positive changes in their lives.

Click on the button to visit the home study course page.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Books Mentioned In This Episode:

POPositivity Lens NotebookSITIVITY LENS for this Episode

Download Jackie's suggested “positive activities” for this episode: Hint- it’s about applying 3 positive steps to find greater joy in your life.


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Enter your details for instant access to this content

Click the button below to open your activity sheet for this episode:


Passion Juice – Good Passion

Passion1-240x300More Good Passion

Since this blog used to be called Pursuing Passions, I was keen to learn more about the dualistic nature of passion when I attended the First World Congress on Positive Psychology this past weekend in Philadelphia.

That there is good passion and bad passion is not new.  But appreciating the psychological impacts of good and bad passion is of interest. Of even greater interest is how to cultivate more good passion and why does that matter?

Robert J. Vallerand, Professor of Psychology at Universite du Quebec a Montreal defines passion “as a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, find important, and in which they invest time and energy.”

Vallerand's model posits the existence of two types of passion – harmonious passion and obsessive passion – each associated with different outcomes and experiences.  Read more

Let Passion be your Power

Life is what happens to us when we have other plans, is, I think, a paraphrase of John Lennon, the great lyricist of Beatles fame.

Life Happens

So when life happens, it can mean we are thrown off life's course as we have designed it.   Barriers and challenges get in the way of what we dreamed our life to be.  The vision we held becomes blurred, cloudy or even blacks out.  It can happen when we get very sick, lose family members, our jobs, our homes and businesses. Natural disasters happen all too frequently.  There are so many stories out there in our current climate that seem to suggest life doesn't always go according to plan.

Read more

Twitter and Me

being-alive-240x300 Twitter makes me happy because, it is FUN to participate, to discover people, ideas, learn many new things, go to new sites. It is ENGAGING, as I am fully absorbed, in the flow; I'm fully focused and before I know it, it's 3.30 a.m.  It is also MEANINGFUL, adding a value to my life that totally delights, and more importantly, in my world view, Twitter is adding value to humanity.  It is making our world better.

I declare my biases up front:   I'm one of those who look for meaning in everything.  I'm curious and I will look for the best in a situation.

How is Twitter making our world better?  Well, it is not only Twitter – it is the entire social media phenomenon.   And it's not the tools that are making our world beter – they are tools, enablers.  It's humankind's choices about how these tools are used is what makes the world better. Read more

Positive Thinking & Emotions: The Practice of Positivity


Positive Thinking & Emotions

I had the good fortune to be able to attend a most inspiring event where Barbara Fredrickson and Sharon Salzberg shared insights in the Brainwave series at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York city on the topic of the science of positivity.  Barbara, as a scientist, has been studying the neuroscience and physiology of positive emotions.  Moreover, her research shows us how we can build up our reservoirs of positivity and what good that does us over time.  Sharon teaches loving-kindness meditation, based on Buddhist teachings as a way to help us connect us to our joyful heart and happiness.  Their stories and synergies delighted us all. Read more

Positive Principle Leads to Greater Well-being

This principle reminds us that, when we feel positive, we are more likely to act positively and over time create a life of greater well-being. Being able to experience positive emotions is a foundation to strengthen a sense of well-being, caring relationships, and increased energy and vitality.

Both negative and positive emotions create physiological, cognitive, and behavioral shifts. When people feel positive emotions, there is an “opening up” versus a “shutting down” effect. The “broadening” effect describes the cognitive, emotional, and physiological changes we experience when positive emotions are aroused.

Positive Emotions

When we feel positive emotions, we momentarily expand our attention and thinking, and we are more open to receive others and their ideas. Moreover, positivity opens us up to possibility, literally expanding our peripheral vision, and opening our veins. Instead of focusing on “me,” we appreciate others, and think more about “we.”

Positive emotions contribute to our ability to speedily bounce back from stress and can potentially transform us for the better.

Overtime, there is a “building” effect which is the accumulation of positivity.

3:1 Ratio – Positive to Negative

Research indicates there is a ratio of 3:1, which is the tipping point for building our positive emotion reserves. If we can, at minimum, think, talk, and behave three times positive to one time negative, then we are on the way to building emotional resiliency that will help us flourish instead of languish.

A key finding of this building effect is that it helps us recover from negativity, stress, or life-threatening situations more quickly. Called the “undo” effect, it means that, faced with adversity, those who have greater positivity reserves, or resiliency, will bounce back and move on. Physiologically, their heart rates recover far more quickly, which is much healthier in the short and long term.

Greater well-being and the Positive Principle.

The Positive Principle speaks to the need for large amounts of positive focus through deliberate choice of language and affirmative questions to discover the most uplifting stories that inspire possibility thinking and thriving futures. The higher the positive affect, the better able we are to deal with the unknown and be more accepting of change and create greater well-being in our daily lives.