I am a personal fan of the field of positive psychology.  I love to read about what it is and what it is teaching us about the science of happiness.  I like to take courses and attend conferences about the subject.  In fact, the whole purpose of this blog (and hopefully of a future book) is what the scientific study of positive emotion can teach people with serious health concerns about optimizing their happiness and wellness within the context of illness (hence the title of the blog).

The “D” in my acronym stands for “Discover Your Strengths and Use Them Every Day.”  First, I want to describe why this is important when it comes to happiness.  Then I will show you how to discover your strengths the high tech way (an online resource).  Of course, you could just ask you mother.  Then I’m going to describe a project I am designing for this blog that allows me to use my strengths as an example of putting this “rule” into action.

It used to be that to “improve ourselves,” we were to work on our weaknesses. However, new research shows that living and working from our unique strengths rather than paying attention to deficits creates lasting personal happiness and allows for peak performance. When we identify and further develop our unique talents and character strengths, we contribute more effectively and enjoy the process more.

It makes sense, really.  Imagine that you are doing something that you are really good at, working towards a goal that you strongly believe is important.  In fact, go ahead and close your eyes and remember such a time.  Remember the feeling of mastery and  flow you might have felt during the activity, and the sense of accomplishment when you were finished.

Now remember the last time you struggled to do something that was beyond your skill level.  It was likely something that you were not innately good at, and likely caused great frustration and a feeling of inadequacy.

Clearly, the first situation leads to positive emotion; the latter, not so much.

What are your strengths?  You probably have a good idea without a scientifically designed questionnaire.  But, if you take it, you might be surprised.  I know I was.

In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes how he and his colleagues came up with the Values In Action (VIA) classification of character strengths. There are 24 character strengths each describing a specific aspect of positive human character. The strengths are grouped into six categories termed virtues. These virtues have been determined cherished among most religious and philosophical traditions.  Collectively, they are said to capture the notion of good character.  The characteristics of character strengths are:

•    They are moral traits and can be developed and strengthened by choice.
•    They are valued for themselves rather than as a means to an end.
•    Using them elevates rather than diminishes others.
•    They are ubiquitous.

We all have the ability to exhibit any of the 24 character strengths but tend to rely on some more than others. The website www.authentichappiness.com offers a free, online survey called the VIA (Values in Action) Signature Strengths Questionnaire, which ranks your strengths in order of importance to you. Your top five strengths are your Signature Strengths.

When I took this questionnaire, I was intrigued by what turned out to be my top five strengths.  I won’t go into them all now, but one that struck me as quite useful for me to have was number two:

Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Maybe that has something to do with why I have done so well (so far) even though I have cystic fibrosis.

I love to do projects…especially projects related to either learning something, or achieving an athletic goal.  I love to set a goal, and then plan my strategy to achieve it.  I am now, and always have been, very goal oriented.  Goals excite me…they challenge me, and bring out the same self-discipline that carried me through medical school.

Not surprisingly, I was a sucker for the P90X home exercise program this spring, and have written about that experience and the unexpected results in a previous post, “How I Grew a New Lung in 90 Days.”  Now that I have a PICC in for IV antibiotics again, I am already starting to plan for the next round of “get Julie back in shape”.  And, now that I have this blog, I am going to post what I do and how it felt each day.  Why?  So that if any of you are interested in joining me, you can do so, and we can motivate each other!  The best thing about a blog is that it allows comments…both to and from the blogger.

So, if you want to join me, the start date is Monday, September 29.  This will be a three-month program (unless my lungs say differently).  I am creating a program that merges the P90X program with a weight-training regimen I have done in the past to successfully gain muscle mass.  There will be six exercise sessions per week with one rest day.  Each session will take about an hour…except on ab days (ouch).  You will go at your own pace, but I will recommend a given “perceived exertion level.”

The equipment needed is: you, water, supportive athletic shoes, some light free weights, and a chin up bar.  If you can, buy the P90X program.  I will use their aerobic and ab routines because they are great!  Also, if you don’t want to go to a gym, you can do the weight training sessions with just the above equipment.  The program I am doing is a modified P90X because I love going to the gym and lifting heavier weights.  The P90X weight workouts are good, and if you do them, you will definitely get stronger.  I just need to atmosphere of my gym, and want to use heavier weights because I have some significant strength to regain.

Are you game?