Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion

Personal virtues and assets

Several systematic studies identify and classify personal virtues 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 authentic happiness.

Signature Strengths

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:

  1. A strength involves personal choices about when to use it, and whether or not to acquire and develop it, 
  2. A strength is a personal trait; it is exhibited across a wide variety of circumstances over a long period of time.
  3. A strength is valued intrinsically, in its own right, and not only as a means to an end, and
  4. 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

  1. Curiosity / Interest in the world
  2. Love of Learning
  3. Judgment / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
  4. Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
  5. Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  6. Perspective

II. Courage

  1. Valor and Bravery
  2. Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
  3. Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty

III. Humanity and Love

  1. Kindness and Generosity
  2. Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved

IV. Justice

  1. Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
  2. Fairness and Equity
  3. Leadership

V. Temperance

  1. Self-Control
  2. Prudence / Discretion / Caution
  3. Humility and Modesty

VI. Transcendence

  1. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
  2. Gratitude
  3. Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
  4. Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
  5. Forgiveness and Mercy
  6. Playfulness and Humor
  7. Zest / Passion / Forethought

These can be personally assessed using the VIA Strengths survey at www.authentichappiness.org.

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.comExternal Link. 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 background information.

Note that these themes are closer to being talentsintrinsic skillsthan strengthsdeveloped virtues.

Basic Desires

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:

  1. Power—the desire to influence others
  2. Independence—the desire for self-reliance
  3. Curiosity—the desire for knowledge
  4. Acceptance—the desire for inclusion
  5. Order—the desire for organization
  6. Saving—the desire to collect things
  7. Honor—the desire to be loyal to one's parents and heritage.
  8. Idealism—the desire for social justice
  9. Social Contact—the desire for companionship
  10. Family—the desire to raise one's own children
  11. Status—the desire for social standing
  12. Vengeance—the desire to get even
  13. Romance—the desire for sex and beauty
  14. Eating—the desire to consume food
  15. Physical activity—the desire for exercising the muscles
  16. 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 I?.

The criteria used to define, identify, and select desires are:

  1. It is valued intrinsically rather than as a means to an end,
  2. it can be used to explain and understand variations in human behavior, and
  3. 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.

Multiple Intelligences

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

The Authentic Happiness Web site focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.

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

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