Several systematic studies identify and classify personal
and assets. They result in the three lists of signature strengths, themes of
human talent, and basic desires presented here. Learning your own strengths,
talents, and desires is an important step toward knowing yourself, becoming an
authentic person, and achieving
In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman and his colleagues
identify a set of 24 signature strengths. The strengths were defined, identified,
and selected using the following criteria:
- A strength involves personal choices about when to use it, and whether or
not to acquire and develop it,
- A strength is a personal trait; it is exhibited across a wide variety of
circumstances over a long period of time.
- A strength is valued intrinsically, in its own right, and not only as a
means to an end, and
- It is ubiquitously valued in almost every culture in the world.
These signature strengths are listed here, grouped by the virtue they provide:
I. Wisdom and Knowledge
- Curiosity / Interest in the world
- Love of Learning
- Judgment / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
- Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
- Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
- Valor and Bravery
- Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
- Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty
III. Humanity and Love
- Kindness and Generosity
- Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved
- Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
- Fairness and Equity
- Prudence / Discretion / Caution
- Humility and Modesty
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
- Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
- Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
- Forgiveness and Mercy
- Playfulness and Humor
- Zest / Passion /
These can be personally assessed using the
VIA Strengths survey at
Themes of Human Talent
Working with the Gallup organization, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
analyzed information collected over a period of thirty years from more than two
million interviews about people's strengths. They extracted the thirty-four most
prevalent themes of human talent. These themes are: Achiever, activator,
adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition,
connectedness, context, deliberative, developer, discipline,
empathy, fairness, focus, futuristic, harmony,
ideation, inclusiveness, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility,
restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo.
These can be personally assessed using the strengthsfinder assessment
available at: www.strengthsfinder.com. You may have to purchase a book or contact the
gallop organization to obtain authorization to use the tool. Their book Now,
Discover your strengths, provides a profile of each strength and more
Note that these themes are closer to being talents—intrinsic skills—than
Researchers Steven Reiss and Susan Havercamp developed a list of 328
candidate goals and then asked a group of 401 American adolescents and adults to
rate how much they liked or disliked each goal. They performed a factor analysis
of the results to arrive at the following list of basic desires:
- Power—the desire to influence others
- Independence—the desire for self-reliance
- Curiosity—the desire for knowledge
- Acceptance—the desire for inclusion
- Order—the desire for organization
- Saving—the desire to collect things
- Honor—the desire to be loyal to one's parents and heritage.
- Idealism—the desire for social justice
- Social Contact—the desire for companionship
- Family—the desire to raise one's own children
- Status—the desire for social standing
- Vengeance—the desire to get even
- Romance—the desire for sex and beauty
- Eating—the desire to consume food
- Physical activity—the desire for exercising the muscles
- Tranquility—the desire for emotional calm.
(In this list I show the defining phrase used by the authors. This differs in
some cases from the definitions established throughout these web pages.)
These were further studied using the Reiss Profile of Fundamental Goals and
Motivational Sensitivities. More information is provided in the book Who am
The criteria used to define, identify, and select desires are:
- It is valued intrinsically rather than as a means to an end,
- it can be used to explain and understand variations in human behavior, and
- it is independent of the desires already on the list.
These desires are closer to being motivations—why
we do what we do—than talents or strengths.
According to Howard Gardner, humans have intelligence in at least the
following seven areas:
- Linguistic intelligence—verbal skills often measured in traditional IQ
tests by vocabulary tests and reading comprehension.
- Logical-mathematical intelligence—mathematical skills often measured in
traditional IQ tests by analogies, math problems, and logic problems.
- Spatial intelligence—the ability to form mental images of objects and to
think about their relationships in space.
- Musical intelligence—the ability to perceive and create patterns of
rhythms and pitches.
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence—the ability for controlled movement and
coordination, as used in dance or surgery.
- Interpersonal intelligence—the ability to understand other people's
emotions, motives, and actions.
- Intrapersonal intelligence—the ability to know your self and to develop
a sense of identity.
Universal Human Gifts
In addition to the strengths described above, which often differentiate us,
we all have extraordinary gifts, universal to all
humans, that unite us. These include: imagination, intelligence, creativity,
curiosity, sensory perception, emotions, compassion,
intuition, humor, aspiration, movement, and expression.
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin Seligman
Happiness Web site focuses on the empirical study of such things
as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy
Who am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate our Actions and Define our,
by Steven Reiss
Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,
by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica